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Movie review: 'Jackass Forever' is the series at its best

From left to right, Johnny Knoxville supervises mimes Poopies, Rachel Wolfson and Steve-O. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures and MTV Entertainment Studios
1 of 5 | From left to right, Johnny Knoxville supervises mimes Poopies, Rachel Wolfson and Steve-O. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures and MTV Entertainment Studios

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- Say what you will about Jackass, but most franchises are lucky to make it to four feature films and a TV series. There is a reason they've endured, and Jackass Forever exemplifies the series at its best.

Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Jacon "Wee Man" Acuna, Chris Pontius, Preston Lacy, Dave England and Ehren McGhehey reunite to perform more stunts and pranks. New cast members Rachel Wolfson, Jasper, Poopies and Zach Holmes join the team to subject themselves to bodily injury.

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If Jackass were nothing but idiotic stunts, there would be nothing wrong with that. However, what keeps fans coming back is more likely the clever concepts surrounding the idiotic stunts, which are liberally on display in Jackass Forever.

The best sketches of Jackass Forever are when the creative team tricks their own cast. Most of the performers have been together for over 20 years, so they're pretty savvy to what their cohorts might be planning.

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Knoxville has to be clever to fool them, but he does. In a bit called "Silence of the Lambs," Knoxville prepares the gang for what seems like a standard stunt involving a rattlesnake. Then he blindsides them with something funnier.

When it works, watching their inevitable reactions is hilarious. The cast members who try to outsmart Knoxville pratfall even harder in their escape attempts. Knoxville will also tease McGhehey about his fear of bees, but has quite a different threat in store for him.

In "Musical Chair Bags," in which one chair is rigged to eject the person seated, Knoxville makes the contestants play two rounds without launching anyone. This is all in the spirit of showmanship, because he builds up the suspense among his volunteers as to which one will sit in the ejector seat.

All of the performers bring a sense of showmanship to their stunts that elevates them. In "The Quiet Game," Steve-O, Wolfson and Poopies must endure pain without screaming, while dressed as mimes. The actors play up the miming as they taunt each other's suffering.

The showmanship need not be as elaborate as mimes though. They all have a sense of timing, having honed when the right moment to catch someone off guard is. Most of their stunts establish a painful result, so it's the art of drawing it out. Director Jeff Tremaine also knows when to cut to a slow motion replay for comic effect, or an extreme closeup of private parts.

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There is something about seeing a gray-haired Knoxville say "Welcome to Jackass" that drives home the legacy of this series. Indeed, the cast members periodically discuss how far they've come, and how much older they feel.

Jackass Forever also updates some classic Jackass stunts, finding many clever new ways to attack a cup in a jockstrap. There is an undeniable sense of accomplishment in performing these tasks. In an attempt to light a fart underwater, a viewer might find themselves rooting for each bubble to ignite.

There is also a sense of passing on the torch to Wolfson, Poopies, Holmes and Jasper, who prove themselves worthy of carrying on Jackass.

Because Jackass Forever filmed during the COVID-19 pandemic, you can often see crew members wearing masks. It offers a sense of hope that this crew was still able to have fun in their bubble while taking safety precautions. It also adds a level of humor when the mask isn't enough to prevent cameraman Lance from reacting to gross stunts.

By the fourth film in the franchise, viewers already know if they're in the Jackass camp. If you're open to Jackass Forever, the film offers good natured tomfoolery of artistic magnitude as a cathartic release from the stress of modern times.

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Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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