By Pete Vonder Haar | September 23, 2006

In the four years since the first “Jackass” movie hit theaters and graced us all with visual delights like Johnny Knoxville getting shot with a riot gun and Dave England enjoying a urine-soaked snow cone, the crew of lovable reprobates responsible have scattered to the four corners of Celebritydom. Knoxville embarked on an intermittently successful movie career (“Grand Theft Parsons,” “The Dukes of Hazzard”), Bam Margera has his own MTV show as well as a Sirius radio program, and Steve-O and Chris “Party Boy” Pontius applied their former show’s mentality to a quasi-nature program called “Wild Boys.” Given that most, if not all, of the primary members of the “Jackass” crew have experienced some degree of material success since the TV show went off the air, it seems strange that these same guys would once again endanger life and limb for the sake of some cheap laughs.

Then again, if you’ve seen even one episode of “Jackass,” you know regard for one’s health is near the bottom of their list of priorities, and thank [insert deity name here] for that. “Jackass: Number Two” is unassailably hilarious from beginning to end, and is easily the funniest movie I’ve seen since its predecessor. Once again, those assembled fling themselves into the abyss with enthusiastic abandon, and rest assured no one escapes unscathed, as there are plenty of nut shots and thoracic trauma to go around.

Seeing how the movie’s whole goddamned raison d’ètre is the celebration of needless brutality, it comes as a bit of a surprise that the sadism appears to have been ratcheted up several notches. The first “Jackass” practically reeked with good-natured jocularity compared to some of what transpires here. Maybe these gentlemen realize it’s a last hurrah (Margera, looking much worse for wear, pleads against making a third installment), perhaps rumors of personality conflicts are true, or maybe the guys are just getting old and – therefore – surly and fragile. Whatever the reason, you’ll probably spend as much time wincing as you do laughing your a*s off.

There isn’t a great deal of detail to go into about the structure of the movie itself, which consists entirely of a succession of unrelated skits and stunts designed to inflict maximum pain and/or humiliation on the participants. Without spoiling anything, I will say that elements as diverse as medicine balls, anti-personnel mines, and a variety of snakes are put to efficient and sensible use. Margera’s long-suffering parents also make a few notable appearances, and the final set piece is a masterful prank within a prank (within a prank) that leaves you wondering how these people haven’t simply lost it and killed each other yet.

Some will undoubtedly question the merits of such so-called humor, decrying “Jackass” once again as one of the final bells tolling for civilization’s demise. I maintain that if you weren’t singing the same tune when “America’s Funniest Home Videos” came out – a show every bit as cruel but with the added bonus of using unwilling participants – you’re without a leg to stand on here. Nobody’s getting hurt on screen except those who bring it upon themselves, and better that than driving around shooting pellet guns at pedestrians or paying the homeless to beat each other up.

Frankly, I’ve grown tired of defending “Jackass” to its critics. Comedy, like most everything else, is subjective, and this may be the greatest example out there of “getting it” or not. If you thought the first movie, the original TV show, the Three Stooges, or “Football in the Groin,” was funny, chances are “Jackass: Number Two” is right up your alley. You’ll laugh ‘til you puke, if you don’t puke first.

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