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‘Jackass Forever’ Film Review: The Johnny Knoxville Harm Offensive Is Back, Irresistibly So

When it comes to shameless 21st-century physical humor, their pain is our gain

Down with the patriarchy! Unless, of course, they themselves are down with torturing each other for our amusement, in which case, welcome back, Johnny Knoxville and Friends!

A dignity massacre just in time for St. Valentine’s Day, the sociological documentary (yeah, it kinda is) “Jackass Forever” is an all-new collection of raucously perilous prankery from its modern masters, twelve years after the last one (“Jackass 3D”).

One can only assume the long pause was to give the gang (Steve O, Danger Ehren, Wee Man, Chris Pontius, et al) a chance to get their nerve back up, while roping in diverse new comrades (in size, gender, and color) to the comedic possibilities of extreme, how-is-this-insurable slapstick.

To put it bluntly: If this is for you, it’s hilarious; if it’s not for you, it’s still hilarious. Just stay away. It’s been a hard couple of years dealing with an unseen menace, so there should be no shame in the cathartic laughter to be found in a bunch of sadomasochistic clowns priming themselves for hazards they very much can see (and sometimes aren’t always expecting), but most importantly, signed off on: — projectiles, being projectiled, wallopings, arachnid bites, bee stings, hungry animals, electric shocks, clamps, suspect fluids, and a spinning contraption called the Vomitron (the name isn’t even the craziest part of that set-up).

They’ve got another elaborately stunt-y credit sequence this time, too, a Godzilla-themed city attack that allows for a made-up studio street to be sufficiently demolished. It also serves as a signal to the primary bodily focus of this installment, too, considering that the green-hued, suspiciously base-bulbous, tall, and smooth-headed “monster” was filmed in stop-motion on a smaller set and is played — in part, ahem — by Pontius.

In fact, it’s a decidedly graphic crotch-centric outing for the gonzo-lympians this go-round, up close and clinical enough in the befores and afters that the faint of genital should proceed with caution, but artful enough that longtime “Jackass” director Jeff Tremaine knows exactly where the camera should be for the best slo-mo angle of a direct hit to the nuts. (As injury-administering guest sports stars go, MMA champ Francis Ngannou, pitcher Danielle O’Toole, and hockey player P.K. Subban will surely inspire new levels of quivering respect from the franchise’s more squeamish male fans.)

There are nods to old chestnuts, too, along with the newer, more wince-inducing gantlets. Knoxville, when not the devilish ringleader, plays cranky grandpa Irving Zisman again for a Mack Sennett–worthy hidden-camera furniture store bit, and revisits (not without consequences) squaring down a bull. Pontius’s Party Boy makes a brief appearance, Dave England returns to a public-display toilet, and the boys still try to perfect the wedgie. In what counts for sentimentality, the late Ryan Dunn gets a shoutout at the end.

“Veterans” is a good word for the old crew — a few look like they’re walking war stories, and to be fair, someone should probably check in on how Danger Ehren is doing, considering his priceless reactions to some freaky situations. The newer faces, meanwhile (including rapper Jasper, comedian Rachel Wolfson, someone named Poopies, and a punishingly game Zach Holmes) seem like “Jackass” fans getting the ultimate Hell Week of idol acceptance, and clearly loving it. Even guests Tyler the Creator and Eric Andre get a small taste of why no part of a “Jackass” set is safe.

But as always, what’s so joyously, infectiously funny about “Jackass” is rarely the prank itself, but how funny they all find it to reduce each other to writhing heaps. Though you will surely wonder why Jason Acuña (“Wee Man”) would allow himself to be tied down and covered with raw meat as an offering to a hungry vulture, “Jackass Forever” is not for questioning. That way lies the unfunny kind of madness.

Rather, the adrenaline-fueled carnival of crazy on display feels generous, because the funniest bits always include the appealingly human, what-am-I-in-for wind-up and the WTF aftermath of communal howling and battle-scar pride. “Jackass” would be a horror show without the full flower of that teasing camaraderie, a bonkers oneupmanship of fear and pain that can sometimes feel like the purest glimpse of machismo’s true foolishness.

Bullying is wrong, kids. Cruelty is no lesson for living. Violence is never the answer. But when practiced in the open air by tattooed, daredevil “professionals” — as the pre-movie disclaimer anoints them — and lovingly captured by a cameraman frequently seen fighting the urge to puke, their merry re-deployment in “Jackass Forever” might just represent the unhinged release we need in a bruising world.

“Jackass Forever” opens in US theaters Feb. 4.

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