Paramount Home Video
Cast: Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Steve-O, Chris Pontius
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Featurette, Outtakes, Additional Footage
In what is probably the closest mainstream American entertainment has come to a contemporary geek show, the MTV series "Jackass" (2000-2002) televised the dangerous, shocking, and typically gross stunts pulled by a group of hyperactive idiots. In light of the show's inexplicable popularity, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood beckoned to translate that into box-office gold. Paramount Pictures had the dubious fortune to finance the feature-length version, which predictably went on to become a hit. Now, with the impending sequel just weeks away, Paramount Home Video is bringing out an unrated edition of "Jackass: The Movie" to rake in even more cash.
There is no way to truly evaluate "Jackass" as a piece of cinema. To call it performance art, one would first have to submit to the idea that it is art, which it clearly isn't. It contains no story and no real purpose other than to make people laugh. In and of itself, that is not a bad thing, except when we stop to consider what it is we are laughing at. Through a series of vignettes, the "Jackass" guys set out to humiliate themselves and the people around them by physical abuse and extreme irritation. At times, the gags are wacky and harmless, as with the "Party Boy" segments, in which Chris Pontius strips down to a thong and dances in public. Other stunts, however, require the boys to subject themselves to all sorts of bodily harm, either by intention or consequence. These stunts are obviously the main attraction, but they are also the most difficult to watch.
During a segment called "Riot Control Test," Johnny Knoxville allows himself to be shot in the belly with a beanbag projectile traveling at 250 feet per second. In "Butt X-Ray," Ryan Dunn shoves a toy car up his rectum for the sole purpose of getting a reaction from the doctor who x-rays him. The most infamous scene in the movie by general consensus seems to be "Paper Cuts," in which the guys deliberately inflict paper cuts in the webbings between their fingers and toes. Although this may be one of the least dangerous stunts, it is the most cringe-inducing one, so much so that it even causes one of the cameramen to faint as he is filming. But the guys don't stop at cuts and bruises.
The "Jackass" boys will stoop to any low to get a laugh, including resorting to potty humor. Literally. In the segment "Hardware Store Crap," Dave England makes the extremely odious choice to defecate in a display toilet in a hardware store, but not before messing his pants in the car on the way to the store. The film reaches the magnum opus of bad taste in "Yellow Snowcone," in which Ehren McGhehey takes a ball of snow, urinates on it, eats it, vomits, then eats the vomit-covered snow—a sequence that would make John Waters proud. All of these stunts are accompanied by the endless laughter of the participants, who revel in their decadence with sadomasochistic glee.
If one positive thing can be said for these guys, it is that they do not pretend to be anything other than what they are. Their gags are crude and base, but at no point do they attempt to convince us otherwise. They are the first to admit that they are morons, as indicated by the title. We understand from the beginning that these stunts are not done in the name of self-ascribed importance (David Blaine, are you listening?), but for their own perverse entertainment. Ours too, but chiefly their own.
The ultimate question at the end of this is, of course, is it funny? The answer depends greatly on how much tolerance each individual viewer has for the material. Human beings seem to possess an almost primal fascination for the grotesque, which makes it difficult to stop watching this, regardless of how repulsive it may be. Personally, I found it funny in places, but they were few and far between. Others will no doubt be rolling with laughter for the entire duration. Basically, if you were a fan of the TV series, then you will like the movie as well, as it is simply an 88-minute episode.
Paramount Home Video has labeled their new unrated DVD as a "Special Collector's Edition." Oddly enough, they slapped this same label on the first DVD release. It seems that there are few significant differences between the releases, aside from the extra footage for the unrated version, which predominantly amounts to a few extra shots of the boys' wobbly bits (they are frequently naked). There are also some differences in bonus features—both additions and subtractions.
The film is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Picture quality is about as good as it can possibly be, considering that the bulk of the movie was filmed on video. The scenes that were filmed with higher-quality cameras look quite good, with sharp images and bold colors. Footage shot on handheld and eyeglass cameras is naturally blurred and sometimes distorted, so that should be expected. For what it is, this is a good transfer.
The audio is impressive under the circumstances. We are given an option between Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 surround. The 5.1 track is put to great use during the opening and closing sequences, which mock the standard Hollywood blockbusters by featuring a bevy of gratuitous explosions. The opening segment also makes memorable use of Carl Orff's "O Fortuna," which blares magnificently through the front channels. As with the image quality, the sound through the main feature is not the polished work of a typical Hollywood picture, so take it as it is.
The bonus features on Paramount's new edition are pretty much all carried over from the first one. In fact, they actually left out two music videos, a trailer, TV spots, and two still galleries. The fun gets started with an audio commentary by director Jeff Tremaine, director of photography Dimitry Elyashkevich, and Johnny Knoxville. The three sit back for a laidback conversation, mostly recalling the shooting days and their memorable experiences.
Fans will probably enjoy the second commentary even more, which includes the entire cast except Knoxville. It is as offensively irreverent as you would hope it would be. The guys are raucous and loud and seem largely unconcerned with what is happening onscreen.
After this, we get a roughly 25-minute making-of featurette that originally aired on MTV. Featuring interviews with the guys and other crew members and boasting loads of behind-the-scenes footage and stunts, this is pretty entertaining, even if it isn't exactly enlightening.
We then get seven minutes of outtakes, including the cast flubbing their lines and stunts going horribly wrong. Next up are 19 additional scenes that did not make the final cut. Some of these are quite funny as well.
New on this release are nine scenes of footage from the original series that were deemed "Too Hot for MTV." None of the footage is as provocative as that label would suggest, but I'm sure fans won't mind. The set is capped off by a teaser trailer for the sequel, "Jackass: Number Two." Unless these last two features are of particular interest, I would not encourage owners of the original DVD to upgrade. The "unrated" material in the new version is not substantial enough to warrant it, and this release is also missing some of the extras from the initial DVD.
There really is no need to appeal to people on behalf of this release. "Jackass" has its fans, and they know who they are. Deep down, I think there's a part of us all that finds pleasure in seeing other people in pain. How much of that we are willing to reveal about (or admit to) ourselves may be the greatest test of this movie. For anyone who feels no shame in seeing half-naked guys engaging in frat-house debauchery and sadistic violence, "Jackass: The Movie" will surely satisfy. For others, you are not missing anything. Finally, it goes without saying that viewers should most certainly not attempt to copy any of the stunts in this film. Leave that to professionals. And jackasses.