First, an apology. To properly review "Jackass 3D," I'm going to have to make many references to a man's nether regions. I'm going to run out of synonyms. I will try to keep this column family friendly, as the SlashGear overlords prefer, so I'll err on the side of being repetitive. Needless to say, when the producers titled this movie "Jackass 3D," they really had things backwards. The movie is not about the rear end. It's mostly concerned with the other side of things, as it were.
I didn't see the first two Jackass movies in the theater. At the time, I'll admit, I thought I was too good for that type of humor. I don't need to see guys getting hit in the groin, whether it's by a baseball, a fist, a bat, a raging bull or whatever else you can throw at somebody's crotch (the list is, apparently, endless). But I did eventually watch the movies from home, and aside from a few choice moments that I am still trying to forget, they were possibly the funniest movies I've ever seen. When "Jackass 3D" was announced, I thought it would be perfect. Is there a better use for 3D technology than Jackass? The answer, it turns out, might be painful.
Jackass 3D opens with a chaotic hodge podge of painful stunts. Guys get slapped with fish, shot in the bare chest and tidy whities with paintballs, splashed with paint, and are generally abused. The filming is fantastic. It's 3D and slow motion, so tiny droplets and splashes fly across the screen with real depth and form. Flabby bellies ripple (a ongoing theme in Jackass) as painful projectiles collide with flesh. Sneering expressions of laughter are frozen in place. Stay until the end of the movie, when some of this scene is shown again at full speed.
What I like most about the Jackass movies are the things I was wrong about. Before I saw the movies, I thought they would be mean-spirited. I thought they might be slightly hateful, perhaps homophobic and even subtly racist. I figured I would feel sad for the victims. Happily, that's never the case.
The best part about "Jackass 3D" is that everybody is having a great time. Okay, some people are writhing on the floor moaning after being shocked repeatedly by stun guns and cattle prods, but when they are able to stand, they shake hands with their assailant. Everybody gets some, and everybody gives some.
Jackass does play to some stereotypes, but I didn't find them offensive. I think that little people might find the "midget" segments offensive, but that's part of the genius of Jackass. The guys aren't making fun of Wee Man for being little. They acknowledge his size and they use it to their advantage, but he isn't ridiculed or excluded for being the way he is. For the most part, the Jackass crew is a bunch of ugly looking freaks, and they take full advantage of this. Is it offensive when they dress Wee Man up to look like a leprechaun? Yes, I'm sure that audience members of diminutive stature will be offended. But when the movie creates a sort of little person flash mob at a local bar, it isn't the fact that the participants are short that creates a stir. It's the strange coincidence and the outlandish events that follow that creates the situation.
As a big man myself, I'm sensitive to the way Hollywood and pop culture uses obese people as punching bag. "Jackass 3D" does so literally, but they never make fun of Preston Lacy, the largest member of the cast, in a mean way.
Spoiler alert: I'm going to describe in detail one scene, because you have to be ready for this before you see it. If you have a weak stomach, just skip the next paragraph. Maybe the one after that, too.
Preston gets dressed in a pair of briefs and nothing else. He covers himself in clear plastic, then gets on the cardio machine. As he starts to sweat, the Jackass crew begins collecting his perspiration in a cup. They use towels, then wring out the sweat. I'm not going to describe what happens next, but the scene is titled "Sweat Cocktail," so you can guess.
I almost threw up. Really, I was gagging in the theater and I had to look away. When cast members on screen started throwing up, I nearly lost it myself. If you don’t usually get nauseous at this sort of thing, you will this time.
Another time to look away? When you see the model train on screen. Just look away. Skip that scene, go buy some popcorn. That isn't a volcano in the middle of the train tracks.
Is that the problem with the Jackass movies? Too gross, too many bodily fluids? Yes and no. If you aren't comfortable with the male body, and everything the body can do, avoid Jackass. There are long, graphic scenes involving male genitalia. Some of them are funny. Some are uncomfortable. Most are just weird.
It's hard to tell when a Jackass bit will be funny or not. Sometimes, the stunts are simply clever. Ride a skateboard off a ramp into a pool and then jump onto a surfboard and surf the rest of the way. Okay, now let's add a giant slingshot. Now a wheelbarrow. It just keeps getting better. Give the Jackass crew access to a jet engine and they come up with some pretty clever stuff, but then they just start using it to hit each other in the crotch.
I'm not sure "Jackass 3D" is better because of the 3D element. It's a very funny movie, to be sure. Not the funniest of the bunch, but definitely worth the price of admission of you're a Jackass fan or just a curious onlooker who can keep her lunch down.
But one thing Jackass made me realize is that 3D is best used as an immersive element to a film. The old 3D tricks where things jump off the screen? Those aren't so interesting or effective any more. Maybe when I was a kid I thought the baseball (or the vomit, or the flying dildo) was going to land in my lap. But as an adult, I just can't suspend disbelief enough to jump in my seat when something flies my way.
3D technology does create a world with depth, but extreme depth is not always a useful tool in film. Sometimes you want a more shallow look. When you're sitting in a port-a-potty hurtling skyward, do you need depth to add to what's about to happen with the toilet reaches its apogee? No, and you might not even notice it. Most of the time, I hardly noticed the 3D effects in Jackass.
About that toilet: if there's one thing Jackass teaches us, it's that what happens at the height of the toilet's flight might seem like the most interesting part, but really it's what happens when it comes back down. When it's good, Jackass delights with anticipation of the horrible thing that is about to happen to somebody's face or bathing suit area. When it's great, Jackass surprises us with the other moments that turn out to be even more fascinating.