As a nearly lifelong Jackass fan, I feel a slight irony at Jackass Forever being my first cinema experience of the franchise. It is well known for its high energy atmosphere in the theater, and unfortunately I never got to see any previous entries in this intended context. Unfortunate, because Jackass Forever was the best time I’ve had at the movies in recent memory.
The irony comes from the now limited capacity that movies rely on cinema screening due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which also heavily delayed the production of the movie itself when it ended up as Paramount’s guinea pig for COVID safe studio work. With that in mind, I am deeply pleased that the formula still works, easily transcending these difficulties and ranking among previous movies in terms of quality, comedy, and camaraderie.
The new cast was a controversial risk that has paid off. The timing is perfect, with original members ageing out while they can still go hard one last time, alongside the new talent who are all keen to prove themselves. There is a lot more to the group dynamic with additional members, but a fine balance is achieved between fresh ideas and reinvention of Jackass cornerstones.
Like the old cast, the newcomers bring a good blend of talent to the table: high tolerance for heavy stunts from Zach, strong camera charisma from Jasper, ice cold comedic timing from Rachel Wolfson, and charming naivety through Poopies’ keen athleticism. Eric Manaka is also billed as a new cast member, but doesn’t get much screen time and seemed to be mostly absent from earlier promotion too.
Jackass has always been ahead of its time, so it’s no wonder that the concept holds up with younger talent incorporating new popular ideas, such as guesting Eric Andre or borrowing stunts from TikTok and Youtube.
Even more controversial was the exclusion of Bam Margera from the bulk of the movie. After breaking a sobriety agreement in what is still an ongoing process and legal battle, Bam was fired from the movie with only a few days of footage completed.
Surprisingly, some of this was used, with Bam clearly present and shown during one stunt, but with no audible dialogue. As a deep fan of Bam and CKY, it does pain me to say that his exclusion was the right move, and the movie barely suffers from it at all.
Bam has always brought several key elements to Jackass: the best skateboarding talent, as an instigator of the CKY crew, and his ultimate role as the youngest, most popular target who can be bullied without ever ‘punching down’.
These aspects are also why he has proven dispensable for the sake of his own health.
Jackass does not need skateboarding like it used to. Skating was not mainstream cool 25 years ago, and Bam’s career has been a huge part of a large cultural shift that has now made it so. Bam is a deserving skateboarding legend, but both he and the culture are all grown up, and now skating doesn’t need Jackass either. Board sports are ubiquitous, and with a new cast who grew up watching Jackass set the example of a professional career in the field, there is no shortage of the skills that Bam originally brought with the board based stunts that still form a crucial part of the Jackass repertoire. While some actual skating was featured, the main contribution of the culture to Jackass Forever was a cameo from 53 year old Tony Hawk, dressed in full 80s vert gear and getting drenched in semen.
As for being the ringleader of CKY, the tragic Death of Ryan Dunn and withdrawal of Brandon DiCamillo effectively marked the end of any good material. There is simply no interesting group to bring to the Jackass set anymore.
And thirdly, the new cast solves the problem of needing a confident, young target. With plenty of hazing necessary to form the new group, little empathy is required watching Zach Holmes, Poopies or Jasper taking the heaviest hits. Just like it was always funny no matter how upset the youngest, richest and most popular member got when forced into the company of snakes.
Steve-O represents the biggest drug problem and subsequent bounce back of the franchise, and he puts the Bam situation best when describing how jealous he used to be of the younger, more popular star. In that Bam simply has nothing to be jealous of anymore.
Since the death of his best friend he has surrounded himself with enablers and leeches, trying to cling on to a faded skater-rock star image; but publicly failing to maintain friends is not funny. Nor is the empathy required to watch him not only become his father (The original focus of his attention seeking), but to even stray toward the incoherent alcoholism of his late uncle ‘Don Vito’, killed by the anti-social character imposed on him by Bam.
I am as unexcited by Machine Gun Kelly as everyone else (except Jeff Tremaine and teenage girls), and he clearly grew up wanting to be Bam. Steve-O’s open jealousy and necessary gloating defeat of MGK in the exercise bike pool game landed perfectly, and fortunate or not, says everything it needs to about Bam’s absence.
We all wish Bam was happy, and playing his classic part in Jackass, but I wish him the best for his health and child even more. The only real positive progress he has made in a decade was his solitary year in Spain. Read what you will into why that is, but it tells me that not all hope is lost, and that where he is now is not right for Jackass. All parties are better off for his exclusion, most of all Bam himself.
Jackass Forever finally vindicates underrated cast member Ehren McGehey. Who has always contributed some of the best ideas and committed the hardest, since before there was even a solid cast in the MTV series era. But the bigger personalities of Johnny Knoxville and Bam have traditionally only permitted Ehren the cast space to be the humiliated punching bag, a role that he has accepted and performed excellently for decades, despite at times even leading to off camera bullying.
Ehren recently became a father for the first time, combined with breaking alcohol and cigarette addictions since the last movie, appears to be in the best health of his life. This has clearly boosted his performance in Jackass, and his standing with the producers, now given the coveted task of revisiting one of Johnny Knoxville’s oldest, most iconic bits, The Cup Test. This is a task that he may even have outperformed his ringleader in (Who recently named Ehren as most underrated member), taking several of the franchises most brutal nut shots nearly with glee. Ehren is one of the all time most injured cast members, suffering 27 surgeries including three broken necks, and having retired from professional snowboarding due to injury before Jackass was even conceived. I imagine his only stipulation for Jackass Forever was to not have to risk breaking his neck again, which has paid off for the movie in his supreme performance at whatever else it would take.
I do hope this was a by-product of the editing process, because otherwise the only performance lacking was from Preston Lacy. To be fair, he is the oldest cast member, but there didn’t seem to be any enjoyment for the process, or satisfaction at the outcome like all his cast mates. Not to say he didn’t commit or contribute, his punching bag stunt was raw, and surely tough to do a second time, but his contrived smile made it feel a little like he only showed up for the paycheck. This mirrors faux-resentment he shared in 2019 on Chris Raab’s Bathroom Break podcast at the prospect of a new Jackass movie, joking to the effect that ‘that they would call the caterer and you would read a blurb about Brad Pitt being in it before they called me’. Shortly after, he expressed genuine excitement at doing a new movie, so I do hope it was a rewarding process for him; though we may have to wait for the ‘Forever.5’ DVD release to find any better footage.
Speaking of Chris Raab, it was great to catch even only a glimpse of him in the end credit sequence. Originally performing as ‘Raab Himself’, he was the original victim of the Bungee Wedgie from the first movie, which was now revisited as a more elaborate set up with multiple people. Since getting sober, Chris now works in visual and audio production in addition to running his podcast. Working behind the camera for Jackass Forever, we see a brief BTS moment where he was asked why he wasn’t up there re-doing the wedgie: ‘Because I’m one of the smart ones’, said with a grin. A good summation of what went wrong with CKY, from the last remaining contributor to Jackass from the original crew.
My only real criticism is the lack of a grand closing stunt sequence like for the other films. The final scene was certainly extravagant, and had a little of everything, but was also a little confusing and frenetic. With that being said, the opening sequence might genuinely be the best of all the Jackass movies, with a classic concept, great cameos and performances, and the perfect Jackass blend of transparent studio trickery that gradually unfolds to reveal the cast.
The world is socially very different now to when Jackass first formed. They were originally a homoerotic breath of fresh air to a hyper-masculine audience, and I believe that their success has made a genuine impact on the public acceptance of queerness. This also means the usual techniques are no longer shocking enough, requiring a very noticeable increase in nudity, closer up and in more detail than ever before.
This cultural shift also comes with more genuine and much less tokenized appearances of African-American people and culture in the main cast, to great effect, and for the first time in 20 years a female main cast member. Stephanie Hodge had a short lived and also tokenized Jackass career, but back then they didn’t really know what to do with her apart from have her model for them. When she tried stunts they learned the hard way that models get injured more easily and worse than athletes, and there is nothing funny about it.
Rachel Wolfson takes on the mantle perfectly, fitting into the group seamlessly with her background in comedy, and admirably performing stunts that clearly weren’t softened for the sake of femininity.
One area they have largely failed to progress in is the treatment of animals. While the humane society may have certified no animals were harmed in production, and we had at least two on camera warnings from Knoxville to be sure not to hurt them, there was still a typical level of cruelty present conceptually. Certainly arachnid rights are not as important an issue as for bulls, but with several stunts relying on the torment of animals to work, it dampens the mood. While Knoxville gets more hurt than the bull every time, the reality is that the bull would never choose to be there, and if it were a person in the same situation it wouldn’t be okay, particularly in light of the cultural history of torturing and killing bulls for sport. There has been some consideration, as things were often worse on Wildboyz, so I do believe they can work with animals positively.
Steve-O has become an outspoken vegan and animal rights activist since going against his own principals for Jackass 3D’s ‘The Ram Jam’, and the instant karma of getting injured for not great footage. He once quit hosting a game show for their putting of cold-blooded snakes in ice water, and has vowed to not work with animals again. I suppose if Steve-O didn’t fault the use of bees in Jackass Forever then I wont either, but increased effort on this front would be good for the future of the franchise.
I can respect the need for Johnny to take one last concussion from a bull, it was an important denouement; but now at 50 I hope the rest of his Jackass career can shift a little. Johnny Knoxville has more than paid his due; when he originally asked Preston to join the show, he thought it was too violent an idea and that Johnny would make a much better talk show host. This is the future I see for Knoxville, hosting the franchise as a producer, writer, presenter, and crazy genius Loony Tunes character, wielding oversized boxing gloves, wearing costumes with tiny hats, and instantly losing all self control in the presence of any button or switch that sets off one of his beloved contraptions, no concussions required.
Like most fans, I was content and accepting that Jackass was over. With the announcement of Jackass Forever, there were misgivings from everyone. But now having seen the result, it actually makes me excited for the future of the franchise. The cast may not be as tight, and will only dissipate further, but maybe that is how it should be. From the early days as a side project of the video team from a skateboarding magazine, taking inspiration from progressive entertainment media figures like John Waters or even Buster Keaton, Jackass was always ahead of its time. It predated and maybe even influenced internet media like Youtube or now TikTok. But what if that means we are now in a prime media era for Jackass? Whether all the original contributors are here or not, or even during a decade’s absence, Jackass always has, still does, and hopefully always will work, forever.