Jackass 3D: At What Age Does This Become Sad?

When you’re old enough to be the father of a family, is it still funny when you’re waving your nude penis at us in 3D? When you’re successful enough to have investments and a house, is it still funny when you’re having a hog eat an apple out of your ass? There’s really no point in reviewing Jackass 3D, because there’s no plot. It’s essentially the type of hit film that Mike Judge predicted in his film “Idiocracy:” a nonstop deluge of gross-out, lowest common denominator humor with zero plot or character. Did I laugh? Of course I did, because some of their more absurd scene set-ups show their flare for anarchic candid-camera behavior that doesn’t utilize nudity or gross-out gags. I didn’t laugh as much as I stared, fascinated at the lives of these men. Are they providing the type of humor that the American public desires, or are they escalating the decline of intelligent entertainment? Are they demeaning themselves in a sad public spectacle, or are they living the American dream?

The film’s first big gag emphasizes the strength of Jackass over the years: its silliness. In what is sure to be known to anyone who has seen any of the trailers, they set a spring-loaded giant hand, pull it taut behind the entrance to a room, and when someone walks in the room, they let them have it. It clearly hurts, but it’s an inspired infantile joke. One of them hangs out in the room, acting extremely nonchalant as the victim enters, as the others pull the hand back and attempt to suppress their bursts of anticipatory laughter. When their friend gets smacked and knocked over, they laugh with the same gleeful sense of schadenfreude that we do. They attempt to escalate: they have a friend bring in a tray full of soup. The predictable results occur, but it’s a classic old-school gag. “How did he not know?” one of them wonders aloud, because the set-up to them seemed so obvious. Finally, they attach bags of flour to the hand, and the final victim is “antiqued.” The explosion of white powder is gratifying.

These types of jokes, unfortunately short in supply in this installment (can you call this film a “sequel”? can you even call it a “film”?), take you back to an old-school vaudevillian style of humor, where a pie in the face or someone driving through a pane of glass was as funny as it gets. It’s silly, it’s broad, but it never fails to get a laugh. Wee Man, the littlest of the jackasses, has the best scenes as a result of this, since he’s rarely the victim of a painful stunt, preferring to partake in the visual gags. One inspired scene has him walk into a bar with a little date, when a little thug walks up and confronts him about stealing his girlfriend. Soon, they’re fighting, and the little cops come and break it up. The gag continues to grow (no pun intended) from there, and with every addition to the running joke, the laughs get larger. It is a shame to note that in several of these public scenes, onlookers pull out cameraphones to videotape the occurrences in hopes of undoubtedly loading them onto Youtube. Are we really in a world where folks would rather watch two people fight and videotape it for chuckles instead of attempt to break it up?

Of course we are, what am I thinking? This is a world in which Jackass 3D set the box office weekend record for the month of October. A film where plot is replaced by a series of gross-out sketches has outgrossed every film ever during a month normally populated by several Oscar contenders. The bottom line, and I’m sure countless movie studios are seeing this, is that American audiences don’t need intelligence to be entertained. They need sex, violence, and shock factor. Although the sex is far from erotic (unless you have a hog fetish), the male genitalia is in ample supply. One scene involves a slow-motion rotating penis, used as a baseball bat to attempt to hit a small ball that another member than attempts to catch in his mouth. In order to achieve this gag without earning an NC-17 rating, they have a black censor bar which rotates around, blocking the penis most of the time, yet allowing it to drift away at key moments, which gives you the feeling that you’re watching a negotiation between MTV and the MPAA. “I’ll let them see the penis hit the ball, but I won’t allow more than one second of it in 3D rotation.” “What about three seconds, but in one-second increments spread out throughout the scene?” etc.

The majority of these men are over 35. Several of them are married, and a couple have children. Johnny Knoxville, the face of Jackass, is nearly 40 with two children. I’m sure some people would say that in this age of reality television, the American dream is to achieve easy fame by screwing around with your friends, making a fool of yourself on TV, and getting rich doing it. But what effect is this having on future generations? Between our young men seeing Jackass and Jersey Shore, and our young women watching Real Housewives, The Hills, and Flavor of Love, how are we teaching our next generation to persevere and succeed? Where are the reality shows and hit films about people who work hard and utilize intelligent thought? Perhaps I’m being an old fuddy-duddy, and I’m merely a “hater,” or perhaps I’m taking what people think of these genre exercises too seriously. I laughed, and I paid for a ticket, so I’m helping perpetuate the very Intelligence Apocalypse that I decry.

Television has always been the “boob tube”: the outlet for silly and thoughtless entertainment after a hard day of work. I guess the line between what American audiences want from a movie and a TV show is blurrier than the idealist in me imagined. I love escapist films, and I’ve written great reviews of movies whose sole purpose is to entertain, not to stimulate, so why does watching this particular plotless venture explode at the box office concern me so? Johnny Knoxville is a charming, dedicated, and very successful man, and the Jackass brand name is successful in a way that no other copycat attempts have ever been or ever will be, so he deserves all the credit in the world. But when Steve-O is a 60-year-old man, attempting testicle mutilation in the newest cinematic technology forms, I wonder if the world will still be laughing. Sadly, they almost certainly will. Jackasses, indeed.

Note: despite the tone of my review, I’m giving the film 2 kernels. It’s not as funny as the first Jackass film, and overall is somewhat disappointing compared to what they could do, but it did have me laughing in several spots and had some good use of 3D. If you are interested in their variety of grossout humor, you will almost certainly be entertained as much as the audience I saw it with was.

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~ by russellhainline on October 19, 2010.

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