Few suffer as cheerfully for their art as Johnny Knoxville and his band of scatological stuntmeisters, and the gut-busting pleasure they take in every act of self-humiliation proves as infectious as ever in “Jackass 3D.” Gimmicky tech upgrade aside, this typically haphazard (and just plain hazardous) sequel works for the same reasons the MTV franchise has always worked: a joyous, liberated approach to comedy, a genuine sense of the grotesque and pacing so relentless that even the less-than-uproarious bits don’t overstay their welcome. Premium 3D ticket prices and fan loyalty should keep B.O. grosses higher than a geyser of excrement.
That image, rest assured, comes straight from the movie, specifically a segment in which a miniature diorama is desecrated by some poopy projectiles courtesy of one of Knoxville’s fellow pranksters. (The gang’s all here: Bam Margera, Ryan Dunn, Steve-O, Jason “Wee Man” Acuna, Preston Lacy, Chris Pontius, “Danger Ehren” McGhehey and Dave England.) It’s a more extreme version of a similarly revolting gag from 2006’s “Jackass Number Two,” and indeed, during the many strung-together stunts, pratfalls and interstitial jokes that make up “Jackass 3D” (directed, like its predecessors, by Jeff Tremaine), it’s clear we’re watching a series of variations on a tried-and-true comic formula — clever enough to maintain interest, yet never rising above utter stupidity.
Once again, these overgrown boys must navigate an extremely painful obstacle course, this one consisting of Tasers dangling on strings. For the umpteenth time, Margera’s parents prove impossibly good sports, this time when they’re ambushed by a guy in a pretty convincing gorilla suit. As always, the onscreen puking is plentiful and cathartic; seeing people vomit after a sequence as stomach-churning as “Sweatsuit Cocktail” somehow has a palate-cleansing effect.
And it wouldn’t be a “Jackass” movie if Knoxville and a few equally masochistic cohorts didn’t stand in the path of an oncoming bull (plus a ram and a few buffalo), or allow themselves to be catapulted in wheelbarrows and shopping carts with no possibility of a soft landing. Or, for that matter, if a fearlessly full-frontal Pontius didn’t go beyond the call of duty by subjecting his genitalia to all manner of dangerously athletic displays (“Helicockter,” anyone?).
A few segments do bring some gruesome innovation to the table: McGhehey endures a spot of amateur dentistry in “Lamborghini Tooth Pull,” and “Beehive Tetherball” is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Otherwise, freshness is in short supply, even with the enhancement of 3D and generally improved production values; aside from the inevitable shot of a dildo flying directly at the viewer’s eyeballs, the decent stereoscopic conversion mainly allows for multiple gratuitously slo-mo, depth-accentuated sequences in which the guys’ faces are assaulted by fists, often with boxing gloves.
But novelty has never been a prerequisite for hilarity with this franchise, and “Jackass 3D,” like its forerunners, offers the spectacle of comedy pared down to its barest essence, stripped of the distractions of motivation, purpose and narrative. There’s a certain purity to the way these jokers relentlessly pursue their oral/anal fixations, and their eagerness to degrade themselves is curiously ennobling. The troupe’s likability goes a long way toward making it all go down easy; even their socially transgressive stunts, as when Knoxville dons his familiar dirty-old-man prosthetics, never approach Sacha Baron Cohen levels of mean-spirited anarchy.
Though they appear to be in pretty good health, all things considered, Knoxville and Co. are a decade older than they were when the series began, and there are moments here that suggest they may have taken “Jackass” as far as it can go — perhaps too far. “Why do I have to be Steve-O?” Steve-O wonders aloud, shortly before taking a baseball to the groin. Margera, thrown into a pit full of snakes, nearly breaks down in a not-so-funny scene whose inclusion almost suggests a degree of auto-critique, as if the filmmakers were finally questioning the ethics of their shock-and-haw tactics.
Still, they have every reason to continue if they can keep cooking up setpieces as memorable as the pic’s unmistakable highlight, which merges the physical horrors of a Port-A-Potty with the visceral thrills of a theme-park ride. The result is an image as hideous as any “Jackass” has produced, but from a conceptual standpoint, it’s a thing of what can only be described as beauty.