After over 20 years, one of cinema’s finest film franchises has finally come to end, “Jackass.” While that seems kind of ridiculous, “Jackass” was a pretty significant series in popular culture. Starting off as an offshoot of the skating magazine Big Brother, the “Jackass” series featured a bunch of friends, led by Johnny Knoxville, pranking each other and performing a bunch of stunts.
That formula hasn’t really changed since, just the scale. “Jackass” started off as a TV show on MTV before becoming a movie series with the budget increasing each entry. Alongside that, there were a ton of spinoffs. We won’t be covering those here, just the mainline “Jackass” film series.
The format of “Jackass” is simple: short unrelated sketches that feature someone performing a comedic stunt or a prank. You would think that hours upon hours of footage of essentially just people getting hurt would grow stale, but that was never the case. Every time you’d think something would get boring, they would add a twist at the end or up the ante. It constantly took me off guard and was ultimately incredibly funny.
Even when it wasn’t funny, the acts being done were so crazy and so impressive that it was still awe inspiring to watch. On the few instances where a bit doesn’t have much going for it, the bit would only be a few seconds: so short that if it doesn’t land, you don’t even really notice.
Between each entry there’s also a major change in atmosphere. The original series almost felt like home videos. It stayed very true to the skater roots of the franchise and felt like you were watching old skater videos. The first movie followed suit, essentially being the TV show distilled into a feature length film, but with the experience to know exactly when to move on. The pace in the movie is remarkably snappy, something the show didn’t always pull off. The second film, however, is when this series got really special.
“Jackass Number Two” is my personal favorite entry in the entire series. The budget was more than doubled and you can tell. The stunts and feats performed are some of the most impressive things I’ve seen on film. The first movie and show had stunts that felt like anyone could do but nobody was brave enough to. This one felt like you were truly seeing professionals.
One element featured promptly was the use of bulls. Johnny Knoxville gets hit by multiple bulls throughout the series from this point on and it never loses its oomph, shocking me every single time with his resilience. The creativity in the second movie also increased. Many well thought out bits that lead to a lot of great visual humor, outside of seeing people get injured.
The third movie ups the ante even more, filming it in 3D and using high-speed slow-motion cameras, techniques that would later be used in the action movie “Dredd.” The stunts remain as impressive as ever, but “Jackass 3D” does lack a little bit of what made the others work so well. The pranks are severely reduced, and the rawness the other two movies had is lost as this feels incredibly polished. This is still a fantastic entry but a step down from the masterpiece that is the second film.
The fourth and newest movie was made after an over 10-year hiatus from the mainline series and is the last movie, at least the last one to feature the original crew. If you like the previous three, you will like this, as it feels like nothing has changed despite all the time that passed. It even brought back some of the rawness of the second film, making it feel like an even more authentic “Jackass.”
Now, the members of the crew are much older and as a result, while still performing impressive feats, aren’t quite as crazy as the peaks of the third film. Luckily, they came up with a solution with an odd twist: this movie is essentially a passing of the torch film à la “The Force Awakens.” A new younger crew comes in and are guided by the now seasoned professionals. It’s incredibly funny how “Jackass” was able to pull of what Steven Spielberg couldn’t with the fourth “Indiana Jones” movie.
While we’re on the crew, what really makes “Jackass” work was the sense of comradery as everyone involved were friends. Without that context, there isn’t a fun environment to make the stunts funny. This was a problem in the “Jackass”-affiliated movie “Action Point,” which was a narrative movie that still featured the stunts. It just isn’t funny through seeing Knoxville alone hurting himself. The reactions are essential, and the atmosphere of friendship is key.
Even the behind-the-scenes crew feature heavily and as you watch along you really get to know these people. My favorite member, and the de-facto leader, is of course Johnny Knoxville. Throughout this marathon, he convinced me that he was the bravest man in the world, doing stunts that nobody else would and being the last one to fold anytime multiple people were involved. He also just had fantastic screen presence and it’s not a shock he was the only one to end up having an actual acting career.
While not technically members of the crew, a pretty significant part of the series is one of the crew member’s family. Bam Margera often has sketches that involve pranking his parents. These tend to be some of the funniest pranks of the series as quite frankly, you can get away with a lot more with your family than you can with strangers.
The last member of note is the producer and creator, Spike Jonze. If that name sounds familiar it’s because he is a critically acclaimed director making such films as “Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation.” and “Her.” While his film career leans much more towards the high-brow artistic side, he got his start making skateboarding videos with many of the people in this series.
I mention this context because it makes the pranks he participates in much funnier. Jonze’s segments involve him and Knoxville dressing up as elderly people and pranking people and, in my opinion, they are some of the best parts of the series. Even the ones that aren’t particularly clever are funny because of the context of who Jonze is.
There’s something magical about seeing Oscar winning writer-director Jonze dressed up as an old lady farting baby powder on his friend’s face. The Bad Grandpa segments proved so popular they got their own spin-off movie in the style of “Borat,” combining pranks and narrative. It came out 2013, the same year Jonze won the Oscar for best original screenplay.
The series also has a lot of cameos. The most significant ones are the many appearances of Tony Hawk and other skaters, but also cult LGBT cinema director John Waters. “Jackass” has an interesting relationship with the LGBTQ+ community. For as crass as the series is, it’s never bigoted. It’s incredibly progressive for both its time and now, and as revealed in interviews, it was fully intentional.
Going back to the topic of recurring segments, there are multiple bits that feature throughout the series or at least multiple times within the films. In addition to the Bad Grandpa and Margera family segments, each movie features the crew doing pranks in another country like Japan or India. This was likely done to retain the surprise element as “Jackass” being famous in the states does make it harder to prank people without heavy makeup, but they build on the opportunity and come up with creative ideas to specifically utilize the unique setting.
The first movie specifically featured a repeating segment where someone would sneak up on a member of the crew and use clipped to shave their head. Each time they repeat the segment they build on it further. A similar idea was repeated in the third entry, utilizing the high-speed camera where Bam would sneak up behind them, splash water in their face and then punch them with a boxing glove while they’re distracted. The slow motion featured there kept it from feeling redundant of the original concept of the clippers.
I’d recommend “Jackass” to people that were fans of things like “The Eric Andre Show,” “Borat” and just actual professional stunts. You get all the charm of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” or classic YouTube fail compilations, but with a lot more thought put into it. Overall, the series gets 4/5 crabs with the second movie specifically getting 4.5/5.