Watching people take their lives into their hands shouldn’t be as tedious as “Nitro Circus: The Movie 3D,” which could be described as “Jackass” with a death wish (or “Wipeout” without the water). But all the insane stunts — parachuting off Panamanian apartment buildings, or ramp-jumping big rigs in the Utah desert — are dampened by self-congratulation, self-promotion and chest thumping. The stunts are great, a draw for the “Jackass” crowd, but helmers Gregg Godfrey and Jeremy Rawle frame them in a format with zero spontaneity. Word of mouth will be mixed.
The proceedings kick off with a flashback to a group of little kids doing something stupid — the younger version of the Nitro crew, supposedly, who dream of taking their singular routine to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas (guess where the movie’s headed?). And so “Nitro Circus” sets up its reckless crew of stuntmen and one stuntwoman (Canadian motocross champ Jolene Van Vugt) as a bunch of idealists trying to get the world to recognize their genius, which the directors proceed to tubthump for roughly the next hour and a half.
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No one pretends that “Nitro Circus,” the bigscreen edition of a 2009 MTV series, isn’t a descendant of “Jackass”; that series’ creator-director, Jeff Tremaine, and host, Johnny Knoxville, are among the non-Nitro people who weigh in on how “intense” it all is (Channing Tatum shows up, too, for unexplained reasons). And the pic faithfully follows the “Jackass” format: crazy stunts followed by an inordinate amount of cast backslapping and commentary about what just happened, which had been preceded by commentary about what was about to happen, why no one should do it and why they’re so cool that they’re doing it. The big difference is that the “Jackass” people are funny, while the “Nitro” people are not.
Instead, they prattle constantly about their need to live life the way they want to, which is apparently with one foot in the grave. But if you’re going to allow yourself to be dragged shirtless by a tow rope and then launched over open water, best not to whine about it afterward.
Most of the participants grow tiresome over time, as does their shtick; the supposedly ad-libbed patter is as stiff as one of their launch ramps, and the narration (by Nitro-ite and producer Travis Pastrana) is a synthesis of Adam West and the NFL highlights guy. The exception is Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham, who, because of spina bifida, is confined to a wheelchair. Even in a group with as much nerve and little sense as this one, Fotheringham stands out, riding his chair down a precipitous incline and through a wooden loop (it doesn’t end well), or making enormous leaps during the MGM Grand show that serves as a capper to the extreme sport of Nitro Circus.
Tech credits are mixed; the cinematography is often glorious, abetted by expanses of Utah desert against which many of the stunts are staged (Maryland and Panama are the other locales). The 3D is what it is: While it adds to some of the stunts, with bodies and/or equipment hurtling toward the eyeballs, it lends an off-kilter perspective to more pedestrian shots. The editing is solid, although virtually every stunt is presented in slo-mo, multiple times and from multiple angles, to the point that it becomes predictable and routine — which is saying something, given the stakes involved.