Stupid Human Tricks
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Groucho Marx once said: “Comedy is when you slip on a banana peel; tragedy is when I slip on a banana peel.” If Groucho were alive today, he might have revised that statement to read: “Comedy is when Johnny Knoxville gets gored by a rampaging bull; tragedy is when I get gored by a rampaging bull.”
The “number two” in “Jackass: Number Two” refers to it being a sequel to 2002’s gross-out Grand Guignol, as well as a warning that a certain fecal substance that is the high-water mark of adolescent comedy figures prominently. If the charms of the original baffled, repulsed, or incensed, then avoid this follow-up at all costs. There are still tickets available to the maudlin yuppie romance “The Last Kiss.” However, if your morals and maturity are more malleable, or if you’re a fan of Mr. Knoxville and his posse of pain-proof morons, then “Jackass: Number Two” will serve as a blessed distraction from the box office’s more polished, responsible offerings.
For those who ignore the lower depths of pop culture, “Jackass” began as an MTV series that married the antics of the Three Stooges with the viciousness of Torquemada, and did it for no discernable reason other than to shock. With its roots in the daredevil subculture and, more distantly, punk rock, “Jackass” embraced mayhem for mayhem’s sake.
Maybe it should be left to cultural critics of the future to determine whether MTV’s “Jackass” is post-modern slapstick, sadomasochistic exhibitionism, or just another sign of a declining civilization. Its trademark cavalcade of cackling, tattooed frat boys eating the uneatable, launching themselves skyward, and careening into walls is easily dismissible. At the height of its popularity, “Jackass” became synonymous with wasted youth. At the time, though, it was forgivable, because what’s the point of being part of the under-30 culture if you can’t rile up old fogies?
But it’s 2006 now, and the insane displays of joyous chaos in “Jackass: Number Two” read a little differently. The comedic fashion of today is detached irony, smarty-pants sarcasm that comments on society’s folly with aloof reserve. In that light, “Jackass” thunders back onto the scene, a celebration of pain and bodily fluids upending the polite snark wielded by those who make us see our world differently. To the cast of “Jackass,” we live in a world that is so numb, the only way to make sure we’re not dead is to attach a squirming leech to a naked eyeball.
The 92 minutes of unspeakable, cringe-inducing stunts in “Jackass: Number Two” are, God forgive me, hilarious. The sheer audacity on display during this movie, which is nothing more than a relentless tidal wave of hand-over-eyes horror, makes one think that if the Academy presented awards for Best Use of Gravity and Best Use of Poisonous Snakes, “J2” would sweep.
Joining Mr. Knoxville, who takes a welcome respite from his career as a boring Hollywood leading man, are the usual suspects who have managed to parlay their minor-celebrity into MTV spinoff shows, video games, and deodorant commercials. They howl in pain, second-guess the wisdom of getting shot with rubber bullets, and bravely dive into life-threatening situations with abandon. Peppered throughout are bizarre bits involving, among other things, the hipster director Spike Jonze dressed as an old woman who can’t seem to keep her muumuu on, and other asides that include that other staple of adolescent comedy: stampeding midgets. Strangely, the movie is hardly sexual, unless you count the chaste love (verging on homoeroticism) the cast has for one another’s rear-ends and the mysteries within.
There is no narrative to comment on, no heroes or villains, unless you count nerve endings. The movie lacks in redeeming qualities, except for the purifying nature of anarchy, which can set you free.