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Jackass: The Movie

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
Jackass: The Movie
from Film Forum, 10/31/02

This week's number one box office hit—it made $22.8 million this weekend—is not intended as a narrative of any sort. And it is not intended for any honorable purpose. It exists solely to serve up documentary footage of spectacularly tactless behavior, most of it bent on humiliating, embarrassing, sickening, and shocking viewers—both the innocent bystanders onscreen and those in their seats. Jackass: The Movie unapologetically glorifies depraved behavior more vigorously than any film in recent memory.

The heroes of Jackass are MTV clowns who set up elaborate, mean-spirited, gutter-minded, and often self-injuring pranks to shock and nauseate passersby. The stars, led by the obnoxious Johnny Knoxville (Men in Black 2), use their big-screen debut to push their impropriety further than their television show allowed. You won't find a listing of their many perverse, violent, lewd acts here as you might on other sites, but let's just say that the film makes most frat-house hazing rituals look tame by comparison.

(Interesting that Jackass did not provoke action from those who will likely protest Harry Potter again next month. Isn't Jackass more likely to inspire dangerous pranks than Potter is to inspire paganism?)

Critics, meanwhile, wondered how to save audiences from themselves.

Michael Elliott says, "I don't know what's more disturbing—the fact that this movie was made in the first place, the fact that it will most likely make tons of money, or the fact that there may be people dumb enough to want to emulate the idiotic, self-destructive, and perverse behavior which is passing for a motion picture released by a major studio."

Bob Waliszewski (Focus on the Family) says, "I'd call this stuff gross-out humor, but there's no humor. It's just gross for grossness' sake. And it's dangerous. The movie opens with a disclaimer warning viewers to never imitate the movie's stunts. A better disclaimer would be to warn audiences to run away as fast as their legs will carry them."

Pete Zimowski (Preview) says, "This could've been a very funny film, in a Three Stooges, slapstick kind of way, without the reaches into the bizarre and disgusting. For any generation, this is surely the movie to miss this year."

Most mainstream critics condemned the film as base and reprehensible. But a few managed to find some aspects of the movie they consider admirable. Go figure.

Owen Gleiberman (Entertainment Weekly) offers a review that is troubling in and of itself: "It's difficult to reprimand Johnny Knoxville and his crew of merry sick pranksters when their principal pastime consists of dreaming up elaborate new ways to punish themselves." It is "difficult to reprimand them" for punishing themselves for entertainment? "I'm not sure if I enjoyed myself, exactly," Gleiberman concludes, "but I could hardly wait to see what I'd be appalled by next." Sometimes a review tells us more about a critic than the movie he's been watching.

from Film Forum, 11/07/02

Jackass: The Movie continues to draw the scorn of Christian media critics. The immature antics of its self-destructive practical jokers are described not only as reprehensible but also dangerous for impressionable young viewers.

Dale Wilker (Catholic News) counts "three dozen short incidents of pranks, practical jokes, vandalism, self-torture, abuse, mutilation and other violent acts too repulsive to describe. Clearly there is a perverse youth culture out there that this film seeks to reflect and exploit. Many in the audience laughed uproariously at Jackass or groaned in amused revulsion. Paramount, MTV, and Viacom executives who financed and marketed this trash should be ashamed of themselves. For films of this ilk, perhaps Paramount should exchange its now-meaningless pinnacle trademark for some more appropriate corporate symbol, such as a garbage dump."

Josh Sorensen (Christian Spotlight) says, "Unfortunately, in seeking their own fame, they are bringing down a generation to their level of degrading shame. And whether we like to hear it or not, there will be many young boys who will likewise try to seek attention in the same ways."