Older thankfully doesn't mean wiser in Jackass Forever

Their hair might be gray and their skin might be sagging, but Johnny Knoxville and his fellow misfits are gonna stay young forever, even if it kills them. Returning at a time when much of the world is being more cautious than ever, the risk-seeking, anything-for-a-laugh cast of Jackass prove that the biggest threat to their well-being is themselves. In Jackass Forever, the fourth big-screen entry in the now two-decades-old series of pranks, stunts, and fails, Knoxville and director Jeff Tremaine invite a new generation of jackasses to take the biggest hits. It’s the group’s most joyous installment to date, even if the series itself is starting to show some wear and tear.

Confirming that no film franchise is immune to the trend of a torch-passing legacy sequel, Jackass Forever brings in a new crew of ready-to-be brain-damaged daredevils. (As series vet Chris Pontius puts it, the old guys paid their dues.) New members Rachel Wolfson, Jasper, Zach Holmes, a Dave England clone named “Poopies,” and more do their best to carry the burden. It’s Poopies and Holmes, who stars on a Jackass-inspired MTV series called Too Stupid To Die, who make the biggest impression, particularly in an early multi-layered prank involving a pitch-black room and a floor carpeted in mousetraps.

Though they torture their young protégés like older siblings, Tremaine and Knoxville exude a contagious enthusiasm over the course of the film’s fleet 96 minutes. They’ll do anything for a laugh, and the audience will happily oblige. The pair saves the really nasty stunts for Ehren McGhehey, who appears shellshocked, shaking, and traumatized after 20 years of Jackass; his moments of leg-quivering fear are justified. After all, Knoxville ties him to a chair, pours honey over his head, stuffs his pants with salmon, and rings the dinner bell for a hungry bear.

While the film is thankfully light on poop, it goes all in on pratfalls and male nudity, including the flattest penis ever seen on the silver screen. In one of the film’s most suspenseful and brutal sequences—a sequel to the classic Jackass stunt “Cup Test”—UFC Heavyweight Champion Francis Ngannou punches McGhehey in the “ding-ding” with the force of a speeding Ford Escort. Elsewhere, they revive the cup test with a pogo stick. This prompts the first instance of videographer Lance Bangs vomiting in his KN95.

Knoxville nearly makes it out unscathed. For most of the film, he plays ringmaster, leaning on his silver fox status to avoid much punishment. Then he meets his old friend the bull, and it starts to make sense, hiring all this young blood. In the 12 years since Jackass 3-D, Knoxville tried to insert hurting himself on camera into a narrative context. But Bad Grandpa (the Jackass movies’ own Hobbs & Shaw) and Action Point showed the limitations of his charms. He’s best when playing king of the bullies, pushing his oldest friends into risking their lives for a laugh. And that’s a key to the Jackass formula: We laugh because Knoxville laughs. It’s our permission to enjoy the violence. New cast aside, it’s hard to imagine one of these films without him.

The rest of the gang are game but feeling (and showing) their age. Steve-O is coaxed into another horrific bee-based stunt that will leave audiences scarred and hysterical. Meanwhile, Preston Lacy—at 52, “a grown man” by his own admission—still manages to provide one of the film’s saddest moments, an accident in a Silver Surfer costume that will haunt him for the rest of his days. But the graying hair and wrinkles don’t stop Tremaine from treating his friends like a science experiment, building hydraulic rigs designed to explode, launch, and spin them into an early grave.

Knoxville could have hung up his spurs after the trash masterpiece that was Jackass 3D, where Tremaine found the perfect balance between the abjectly disgusting and the awe-inspiring. The slow-motion effects that made that entry so re-watchable pay off again here. The makers of the world’s best camera probably aren’t proud that their work was used to make Knoxville’s dream of lighting a fart on fire underwater come true. But they should be.

Forever can’t escape the diminishing returns of the legacy sequel. Remakes and escalations of old stunts litter the film, but few are improvements. Likewise, a follow-up to “High Five,” involving Machine Gun Kelly and an ice-cold swimming pool, doesn’t deliver in the ways its progenitor did. What’s missing is any sense that the crew is trying to outdo itself anymore. This is the first time where it feels like they’re being extra cautious, deciding that a good hang is as enjoyable as another concussion (though they manage a few). That will surely please their doctors, but we don’t look to Jackass for restraint.

Still, if Forever fails to live up to the heights of previous entries, it’s still a welcome return. Knoxville and the gang are, in every sense, too old for this shit. But older doesn’t always mean wiser. We wouldn’t have it any other way.