Let's be honest. Say you're a big TV star with natural charisma and you want to break into movies but your biggest role to date is playing Luke Duke in the Dukes of Hazzard movie. The thought of strapping electrodes to your genitals, for the second time in four years, probably doesn't sound so awful, now does it?
So don't be hard on Johnny Knoxville. In the latest installment of his life's work, Jackass: Number Two, there are enough hard objects striking him about the head, chest, legs, and groin. He's also strapped to a big red rocket and fired across a lake (and nearly killed), placed before an anti-riot device used to protect embassies (very scary), chased by bulls (twice), bitten by anacondas (three times), caught by a bear trap (twice), punched in the head (endless times), slammed in the face with lead weights (endless times), and vomited upon (countless times).
Actually, he gets off easy.
Blame his borderline career as a movie actor for this. After a particularly crazy stunt, Knoxville asks more than once (and with less self-satire than he thinks) if his face is untouched. He seems to forget that one of the pleasures of Jackass: Number Two - yes, pleasures - is the infectious camaraderie among his cackling band of gleeful idiots. They're puerile, anally obsessed, and more than willing to lock a snake-phobic friend in a room with an irritated king cobra. But watch their faces when something goes wrong, when someone is seriously hurt - is that, oh gosh, honest concern I'm witnessing?
Which is why Steve-O stands out. As with the 2002 original - which Knoxville swore was his farewell to the Jackass lifestyle - the movie is basically a series of disturbing, disgusting, offensive, and often hilarious stunts performed by (extremely) amateur stunt men, now in their 30s, still best buds. But Steve-O. That gleam of madness in his eye - it's unnerving. This guy will be placing leeches on his eyeballs and jamming fishhooks through his cheeks then feeding himself to sharks (two actual stunts) until he's collecting Social Security.
Which doesn't look likely.
So, I gotta ask: Is it art?
Of course, now I can hear you shouting at this newspaper: "Who cares about art? It's called Jackass: Number Two." To which I reply: The Jackass folks think it's art. And maybe it is, a kind of masochistic performance art teetering on the verge of becoming a snuff film. Shock is everything here. Which is why the film feels a bit long and repetitious: As clever as these stunts are - and the opening stunt, a running of bulls through a pristine suburban cul de sac, has more tension than the last Superman movie - nothing is innovative.
But back to the art.
The larger pieces receive titles - Fire Hose Rodeo and Bad Grampa - as art often does, and this time there are guest influences. The most obvious is John "Pink Flamingos" Waters, who is on hand to suggest the Jackass crew members are just the latest in a long line of avant-garde performers who believe one should suffer for art, particularly when it's tasteless and the audience is already heaving in disbelief. (Even Luis Bunuel, the Spanish director who famously severed an eyeball on camera, gets a shout-out in the credits.)
Now about that rating: R.
What do you have to do - if you make a film and it's financed by a major studio (independents invariably get harsher treatment) - to pull an NC-17?
Never mind the thoughts of Steve Irwin that race through your head as the Jackass: Number Two cast members taunt a stallion and fill a limo with bees, when a guy defecates on camera, when there are tons of full-frontal nudity, and the only time a black bar appears is when a horse visibly in heat is forced to ... . Anyway, as I was saying, the ratings board is a joke. This is a body (on the studio dole, mind you) that objects to racy movie posters but sees nothing problematic about a movie in which a guy pulls down his pants and, ahem, applies himself to an ice sculpture as friends say: "Don't think about it. Don't think at all. Just do it."
Of course, I laughed anyway.
So sue me.
Contact Christopher Borrelli at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6117.