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By Pete Vonder Haar | October 30, 2002

Rumors of the decline of civilization have been bandied about for centuries. From the fall of the Roman Empire through the Dark Ages and on to both World Wars, experts have presented evidence that the End Times are upon us and never as often as in recent years. The ascension of reality TV, Tom Green, and another Bush in the White House combined with millennial hysteria served to loose the prophets of doom upon us, screeching that humanity was doomed. And perhaps they’re right, but “Jackass” is not the end of civilization.
“Jackass,” the TV show, suffered vilification in hoarier forums than this for the last few years. The premise was engagingly simple: a collection of skaters, stuntman-types, and degenerates under the smirking eye of quasi-actor Johnny Knoxville subject themselves to hilariously painful ordeals. Past episodes treated us to sights like über-freak Steve-O getting his cheeks pierced together (no, the others ones) and Knoxville himself getting kicked in the crotch repeatedly by gleeful children.
Naturally (and despite constant warnings to the contrary) several viewers chose to mimic these antics, with not so hilarious results. MTV, which aired “Jackass,” bumped the show to a later time slot to keep the impressionable from poisoning their minds. Unfortunately for MTV, children inclined to barbecue themselves are unlikely to pay close attention to recommended viewing restrictions, and in the end, Knoxville chose to cancel the show rather than put up with increasing pressure.
The solution? Knoxville and his crew have upped the ante by essentially transplanting the show to the big screen, only this time they don’t have to bleep out the swears or hide Chris Pontius’ wang. The results are incredibly funny and often too disgusting for words. Those who haven’t had their recommended daily allowance of a*s cracks, feces, and urine will find a cornucopia of delights in “Jackass: The Movie.”
Trying to address plot structure or characterization in this film is like trying to explain why someone would want to apply electrodes to his gooch (don’t ask), so I won’t even bother. Our attention span-impaired adolescents will have no problem with the sketches that don’t last more than five or ten minutes, while the rest of us will rejoice in seeing plus-sized boxer Butterbean whale on a horribly outmatched Knoxville (leading to the latter’s funniest line of the movie: “Is Butterbean okay?”). In addition, we get all our old favorites: Bam Margera victimizing his hapless parents, Pontius’ Party Boy running amok in Japan, and countless incidents of riotously entertaining severe body trauma.
“Jackass: The Movie,” on first blush, may not appear to be that different from something like Bumfights, but the masochists of “Jackass” aren’t hurting anyone but themselves. No one is exploiting these guys; they get off on putting themselves in ridiculously painful situations and one-upping each other in grossness. No one will confuse this with anything in Ingmar Bergman’s oeuvre, but the only thing these gentlemen are truly guilty of is shameless exhibitionism and a deficient sense of self-preservation.
This is to our advantage, because “Jackass: The Movie” is one of the funniest films I’ve seen all year. Knoxville and Co. joyfully sacrifice their bodies for our amusement, and it works. Their stunts are not for the faint of heart (or stomach), and bystanders may not always escape emotionally unscathed, but the end result is a collection of some of the best physical comedy since Moe first smacked Curly on the head.
Nobody in the theater in which I saw this movie expressed anything but amazement, revulsion, and/or disbelief at what they were seeing, just as no one seemed inclined to duplicate the onscreen mayhem. Those who insist on thinking of the children would be better served banning Wile E. Coyote cartoons. But hey, if a few slack-jawed troglodytes self-terminate because they’re too thick to heed the brutally obvious warnings against imitation…maybe the world will be a richer place.

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