Most of us think of a penis as having two purposes. But as we learn in Jackass 3D, the latest anarch-a-thon from Johnny Knoxville and his demented companions, this is a narrow view. In one of the movie’s many singular stunts—an interlude called “The Helicockter,” I’m afraid—we see that a penis properly equipped with a very long cord can pilot a remote-controlled model airplane high in the sky. At another point, in a demonstration of what would have to be called penis baseball, a ball is pitched, the penis takes a swing (size does matter here) and connects, and then—the topper—another player, unrelated to the penis, pops up brandishing the ball in his clenched teeth.
By now, after two feature films and of course the spawning series that ran on MTV for three seasons, the Jackass sensibility—wildly violent, jaw-droppingly gross, and state-of-the-art stupid—has become familiar. But the particulars—the individual crazed stunts and antics—remain unpredictable, and frequently unbelievable. Even the Judd Apatow brand of scabrous film comedy seems timid by comparison, so this iron-man uproar can still feel liberating. You might never have wanted to see some loon ride a Jet Ski down the side of a rocky hill, or offer his face up to a scorpion attack, or try literally pissing into the wind (it’s as messy as you’d imagine), but when you do, you may find yourself chortling uncontrollably before good taste has a chance to intervene.
The Jackass crew remains unchanged from the idiot band that emerged out of the skate-punk world back at the turn of the millennium. Given the broken bones and juddering concussions that are an integral part of their painful trade, this dedication is surprising in itself. Knoxville is still in charge, if that’s the word, and lead maniacs Bam Margera, Steve-O, and Chris Pontius are still onboard, as are the alarmingly obese Preston Lacy (also credited as a writer, whatever that might mean) and Jason “Wee Man” Acuña, the world’s most good-natured dwarf. (One wonders which he found more trying: being slapped with dead mackerels, or compelled to don a leprechaun costume.)
Not everything here is a hoot: It’s been a long time since a guy in a gorilla suit was thought to be especially funny, and some of the gags are strained setups. But the peak lunacies—like the visiting fart-master who plays a trumpet with his butt—are priceless. (Disgusting, but priceless.) And the decision to shoot the picture in 3D, while probably a bid to extend the Jackass franchise, was clearly a shrewd one: There are things hurtling off the screen in this movie that are beyond the ken of James Cameron.
Given the fact that most of these men are now in their mid-30s (and beyond), one wonders how long they can continue down the Jackass path. But then what’s kept them going this far? Is it the money? (Their first film, 2002’s Jackass: The Movie, cost $5-million to make and grossed $60-million in this country alone.) Maybe. But it would be hard to fake their still-giddy spirit, or the affectionate camaraderie that’s a part of their appeal. They remain united, it seems, by a single belief: Anything for a laugh. As Knoxville says, after being rammed in the gut by an angry buffalo: "Hahahahaha!"
Kurt Loder is a writer, among other things, embedded in New York. This column first appeared at Reason.com.