There seem to be two schools of thought on Jackass. Of course there’s the one that deplores it and condemns it. Then there’s the one that exaggerates how much they like it and respects it ironically. I want to start a third school, an actual exploration of the artistic accomplishments of the Jackass franchise. It may have started out as just a bunch of guys acting stupid, but when you create a genre and then excel at it, that’s art. Cinema is first and foremost about entertainment, and Jackass is the purest form of entertainment.
I considered Jackass: Number Two the best movie of 2006. Its creativity and execution of stunts was masterful. The sheer task of pulling one over on people who’ve been doing it for years was a major hurdle to overcome. The guys played to the camera like professionals. There were recurring themes and motifs edited together with music in a profoundly effective way. Not a single stunt was a dud.
Jackass 3D is not better than Jackass: Number Two but it is the next solid entry of a crew that has perfected their art. A bit like The High Five shows how advanced the jackasses have gotten. Wee Man and Johnny Knoxville have set up a spring loaded hand in a hallway and trick other teammates into crossing its path. Ryan Dunn appreciates how well Wee Man set him up for it. Nobody thought Danger Ehren would fall for it, but the layer they add to his setup raises the stakes for the bit. So then the third slap has to add something else, and now you’ve got a layered joke.
The air of professionalism seeps through when you see everybody debrief after a stunt. They may want to be stupid, but after 10 years of performing even stupidity has standards and a certain visual is required to make the final cut. The fact that they’re analyzing a stunt that was stupid to begin with is a meta level that should be appreciated, not dismissed.
Some of the stunts actually create beautiful 3D visuals. In Bungee Boogie different jackasses slingshot themselves off a ramp. Whether riding skateboards, skates or other wheels, they fly through the air in aerial slow motion. As an addition, Preston Lacy sees an opening for a gag and he fills it. That’s another way these professionals build on the entertaining art they’re creating.
The editing continues to reveal the breadth of a setup at the exact moment when it’s funniest. With a jet engine in the shot, everyone finds something to do for a wind gag. This segment ranges from stunt to art because someone could take a physical risk, or they could just throw something ironic into the wind. Poop jokes also require more elaborate construction that should be appreciated on an intellectual level as well as a visceral one.
They still set up reactionary performance art bits, creating a scene in public. Here too, they start with a premise that’s already funny, then add the next level and then the next. Like a “Simpsons” joke, any one thing would be funny but the fact that there are three or four jokes elevates the entire premise. For one bit, they have a dummy cameraman quit the shot, but that’s just part of selling the reality of the danger they’ve invented. Experts.
It’s not as much in your face as you might expect. It’s just really good footage and some of it pops out in 3D. They let a few more duds slip through the mix this time and the latter half of Jackass 3D is less inspired. It’s still a work of art and if you don’t believe me, I took five pages of notes to come to this conclusion.