As much as I like to pretend I'm a pretentious, high-minded supporter of filmmaking as art, I really, really love 'Jackass.' For better or worse, I'm fairly certain I'm the only member of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association who put both 'Synecdoche, New York' and 'Jackass Number Two' on his Top Ten of the last decade. But while you – much less they – may or may not agree that Johnny Knoxville's breakthrough TV show and subsequent film series is as hilarious, fun, and enjoyable as I do, 'Jackass 3D' is a sort of antidote to this year's cinematic doldrums, a gag-inducing celebration of the stupidity that's ubiquitous in the majority of 2010's offerings, albeit gloriously worn on its sleeve rather than submerged in the pretense of high-concept entertainment, much less capital-A art.
Like the show that inspired it, 'Jackass 3D' has no narrative. Rather, it's comprised of a nonstop series of stunts, pranks and stupid tricks that the now-established ensemble of idiots play on each other, and seemingly as often, themselves. Their leader, as always, is the indefatigable Johnny Knoxville, who subjects himself to many of the worst stunts despite being the one who most often gets the most injured. Meanwhile, there's Steve-O and Chris Pontius, stars of the 'Jackass'TV 'spin-off "Wildboyz,' both of whom are still game to tackle whatever Knoxville makes them eat, wear, or in Pontius' case, not wear. Bam Margera is also back, terrorizing his parents Phil and April, as are his cohorts Dave England, Ehren McGheghey and Ryan Dunn. And then there's Preston Lacy and Wee Man, whose contrast in physical size continues to be a great source of humor.
I don't want to spoil the payoffs of any of the film's many great gags, but fans (as well as critics) can rest assured that there's at least as much bodily fluid in "Jackass 3D" as its predecessors. But also like earlier installments, the guys importantly target only each other with their tricks, and best of all there seems to be mutual enjoyment of the outcome, regardless whether they're a perpetrator or victim. Indeed, it's because of this good-natured camaraderie – admittedly of inflicted insults and injuries – that 'Jackass' remains charming and fun; if the guys subjected bystanders to showers of poo or stunts that hurt or scared them, I suspect they would lose our sympathies quickly, but when even the guy who just got smacked in the face with a giant hand is laughing about it, it's easy to enjoy the moment without thinking too seriously about his probable pain.
That said, 'Jackass 3D' is not quite as satisfying as 'Number Two' for a number of reasons, although its gloriously disgusting use of 3D is not one of them; in fact, director Jeff Tremaine almost always manages to shoot sequences from a point of view that maximizes their visceral impact, be it when a toy helicopter tethered to a human appendage advances towards the camera, or when a tidal wave of fecal matter cascades down around some unlucky recruit. But unlike the previous film, this one doesn't build to a skit or stunt that feels like a climax or conclusion; as irresponsibly hilarious as almost everything is in 'Jackass 3D,' it doesn't feel like there's much rhyme or reason why the film ended when it did, or why any of the skits was arranged before or after the others.
Admittedly this probably reflects more on the quite frankly insurmountable finale of 'Jackass Number Two,' which had the epic imagination of the group's best and worst impulses. But even with opening and closing sequences shot so beautifully that it made me wish the entirety of the film were photographed in high-definition slow motion, it just felt like 'Jackass 3D' came to an end because there wasn't anything left, rather than the sense that they gave everything that they had.
In which case, I'm more than happy to see another installment whenever the guys recover enough to jump back into the dangerous, dirty, and in some cases depraved world they created for themselves more than a decade ago. Because with the few exceptions of the stunts they perform that tap into our personal fears or test the tensile strength of our gag reflex, the material they create manages to be at once revolting and irresistible. But better than that, they don't dress up their silliness or try to contextualize it in conventional filmmaking form; unlike the empty-headed thrills of 'The A-Team' or even the sub-moronic tomfoolery of 'Dinner For Schmucks,' Knoxville and company cut out all of the characters and story and just do dumb stuff to make you laugh. And it works.
The irony, meanwhile, is that these guys have far more character than almost anything a Hollywood screenwriter could come up with, and via the show, the spin-offs and the movie series, the story of 'Jackass' has evolved far beyond most movie mythologies. But its ongoing success is proof that just because poop is a big part of your repertoire, that doesn't mean your repertoire is actually poop, and whether it's the last installment or just the latest, 'Jackass 3D' provides plenty of reasons to continue to love it, even if you need a shot of penicillin afterward to properly register your approval.