In 'Jackass 3D,' Johnny Knoxville Is Back in His Comfort Zone

Another collection of bite-sized pranks, some designed to hurt, others to gross out

Jackass 3-D's advance media screening synopsis consisted of two sentences: "Johnny Knoxville and his buddies are up to their daredevil comic antics again. And this time they're coming at ya in 3-D."

Love them or hate them, but you can't say that Johnny Knoxville and his companions in cinematic masochism ever lie about what they bring to the screen.

To their credit, it's not like anyone in their target audience doesn't have an opinion about Jackass already. You'd have to crawl under a very secluded rock to find someone who doesn't already have a pretty good idea whether they're up for another round of Jackass-level shock comedy, and even then, there's a good chance that one of Knoxville's friends has already humped, jumped over, or shat upon that rock.

So after 10 years of sporadic professional jackassery, there's really nothing left for a marketing department to do but turn the beast that is Jackass 3-D loose and hope that some new camera tricks help it zero in on a profitable demographic like a herd of buffalo pointed squarely at Johnny Knoxville's already well-trodden unmentionables, right?

Well, kinda. Despite the hype, the 3-D in JJackass 3-D isn't really the point. The effects are certainly there, but given the last decade's worth of evidence, nobody in their right mind would try to claim that the Jackass crew wouldn't have performed any of 3-D's stunts in 2-D if that was their only option. Or for television instead of a theatrical release, or in still photos with accompanying text, or—you get the idea.

Knoxville himself is the first to cede the point. "We've all gone on to do other things, but Jackass is really in a way who we are," he said at last week's sneak preview. This late into the Jackass game, it's hard to shake the sensation that when more than two of these guys are in the same room, 3-D cameras or no, somebody's getting shot with a dildo gun.

But in a weird way, those same effects, despite their often extraneous nature, are totally appropriate. Jackass has always been a visual version of your average trick shop: a collection of bite-sized pranks, some designed to hurt, others to gross out, but all delivered with the intention of entertaining somebody, even if that somebody is the guy who just convinced his friends to stand in the wake of a commercial jet engine and allow him to throw eggs at them.

Jackass 3-D, then, is that same trick shop with an updated catalog. MTV Films in its infinite wisdom shipped Knoxville's documentarians a couple of fancy new recording toys, gave them Mike Judge's phone number (to set up a dumbass-friendly animated prologue), and then apparently just got out of the way.

Knoxville's band of merry pranksters were then free to do as they pleased, letting 3-D film technology be the frosting atop a treat both hilarious and disturbing (as perfectly embodied in the film's opening montage by Bam Margera dancing in a cupcake costume). 3-D as implemented here certainly won't change cinema, but Jackass 3-D nonetheless doesn't let it get in the way. It's fluff, but here that fluff is at home.

If anything does get in the way, it's the feature film format as a whole. Despite the limitations of television production, Jackass was most in its zone when it was delivering 22-minute chunks of itself interspersed with commercial breaks. There were buffers there, brief respites of time in between Johnny Knoxville taking a sledgehammer to the crotch and Brad Pitt getting humped in a monkey suit during which viewers could recover from what they had just seen.

Like its two predecessors, Jackass 3-D gives no such quarter. Its unrelenting deluge of bodily injury, full male nudity, and fecal humor (so much fecal humor) almost makes the movie into its own Jackass stunt. Watching the whole thing in one sitting becomes a test of endurance, with later pranks at risk of losing impact due to the sheer weight of what came before them. "Hi, I'm Jackass 3-D," the movie practically says, "and this is the 90-Minute Audience Desensitizer."

For his part, Knoxville seems even more enthusiastic about Jackass than ever, especially for a man pushing 40 whose television experiences with the show were colored by public condemnations and pressure from network censors. "After the first film we said that would be it for us, and then we did the second one and said the same thing," Knoxville said last week. "After we did this one, we had such a good time with it that we know better than to say that anymore."

When Jackass 4-Ever comes out, don't say he didn't warn you.