Seeing the movie Jackass depressed me. I considered it close to the nadir of the cinema, a geek show of stupidity and self-hatred. Yet last weekend, I willingly saw the sequel, Jackass Number Two . I haven’t revised my opinion so much as refined it.
Describing what appears on-screen tests the limits of euphemism, but I’ll try. The film is an extension of reality TV shows like Fear Factor . Nine guys create and perform a series of video vignettes, from a few seconds to a few minutes each. These fall into three categories. The first is exhibitionism. Sadly, the bodies of old people, dwarfs, and the obese are somehow equated with segments displaying human and animal excretions and secretions – many of these consumed by the cast. Director John Waters makes a cameo, even as his own Pink Flamingos is surpassed.
The second category is sadistic practical jokes. One of the guys, terrified of snakes, is locked in a cattle car with a king cobra. He weeps in panic. Another dresses as an Arab terrorist, complete with fake dynamite strapped around his chest. He is made to believe that a cab driver is aiming a real loaded gun at him, and is probably going to kill him. Ha, ha, ha.
The third class of vignette is high-concept stunts, from the simply self-abusive to the staggeringly dangerous. Nether regions are kneed, kicked, shocked with stun guns, frozen to blocks of ice, and allowed to be bitten by a snake. Why don’t these boys just sleep with each other and have done with it?
I now realize that this stuff is as heavily stage managed as pro wresting, and sometimes, that freed me up to laugh, sometimes hard. When the guys writhe in pain, they are milking it for the camera. They are young and athletic, coached by stunt coordinators how to take a fall; and the danger has been carefully calculated and minimized. Even so, mark my words, if this series goes on, somebody’s going to get seriously hurt.
Consider Mark Zupan, subject of the documentary about quadriplegic rugby players, Murderball . In Jackass Number Two , they strap rockets to his wheelchair and fire him across a lake. Zupan originally broke his back when he got drunk and fell into a river. Is it a proud moment to prove that he can be just as stupid as the was able-bodied?
This begs the question: who’s dumb, them or us? One genius allows himself to be branded on the buttocks. Not tattooed; branded, like a cow. This goes wrong, leaving him with multiple scars, which he then displays for his mother. "You had the greatest butt, and now you’ve ruined it!" she exclaims in horror. True, but now he’s a celebrity. In one shot you can just see, in the background, the car he drives. It’s a Lamborghini.
Jackass Number Two is playing at Showplace East. That it’s only rated "R" is another sick joke. This and other theater and movie reviews can be read, listened to, or podcast at wfiu.indiana.edu. Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.