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Jackass Number Two

Threatening to diminish one's shamed enjoyment of Jackass: Number Two (2006) — which takes its title all too literally as it pertains to matters scatological — is a deeply discomfiting trend that finds the nation's critics not only embracing the perilous and humiliating and sometimes both shenanigans of Johnny Knoxville & Co., but finding artistic merit in them as well. For instance, Nathan Lee of The New York Times intellectualizes the boys' exploits as "an impulse to deny the superego and approach the universe… as an enormous, undifferentiated playpen." While this may just be a wordy dodge of Neverland-inflected cliché (and these lost boys won't grow up so long as there's money in their brand of self-mutilation), it's also strangely admiring and certainly far removed from the paper's A.O. Scott confusedly fulminating that 2002's Jackass: The Movie was nothing more than David Fincher's Fight Club (!) "shorn of social insight, intellectual pretension, and cinematic interest." And this is not welcome because it was the latter kind of incensed reaction that made Jackass such a choice guilty pleasure for people who should know better. Unfortunately, the full-scale harrumphing has been drowned out by The Boston Globe's Wesley Morris praising Jackass for the way it "weds the obviously juvenile with the arrestingly profound," or The Washington Post's Desson Thomson celebrating the boys' understanding of "the simple integrity of a slapstick gag" — all of which is true, but, darn it, way to make the movie sound less than transgressive!

Try though these eggheaded killjoys might, they still can't bleed the gleeful wrong out of Jackass: Number Two. Or counter the gag reflex. As if daunted by the prospect of matching the first film laugh-for-laugh, Johnny Knoxville and his merry band of imbeciles have bravely opted to up the pain quotient, which results in flesh being punctured, rent, and scarred with enough frequency to make Mondo Cane look like Citizen Kane. Some of the gnarly highlights include Steve-O plunging a fishhook through his cheek, Knoxville getting his forearm torn to shreds by an antagonized anaconda, a variety of stunts involving charging bulls that could've easily gotten someone killed, and a bruising bit of business that pits Knoxville, Bam Margera, and Ryan Dunn versus a riot control device that blasts out at a very unfriendly velocity 700 .45-caliber rubber balls. Ow. As mentioned before, defecation figures prominently into many of the gags, which means taking a dump onscreen — presumably barring close-ups of evacuation — can now be added to the list of activities that amazingly won't fetch filmmakers an NC-17 rating, proving yet again that Stanley Kubrick clearly went in the wrong direction with the orgy scene in Eyes Wide Shut. Almost everything's fair game. Even for the relatively stout of constitution, it's a pretty harrowing 93 minutes.

*          *          *

No matter how rough it plays, Jackass Number Two is still one seriously funny flick, but this time there are lulls; after several seasons of Viva La Bam, it's impossible to find much humor in the Margera family prostituting their dignity for a fat paycheck. And they're generally the ones most unwilling to suffer nobly for director Jeff Tremaine's art. (One bit involves Preston Lacy, who easily matches patriarch Phil Margera for corpulence, sliding into bed with Bam's mother April in the middle of the night; given that it's hard to believe April could sleep through the substitution, the only way this would've been genuinely funny is if Preston had made a serious move on Mrs. Margera, thus requiring the initially compliant Phil to charge back into the bedroom.) This is probably why Bam's cohorts make a point of torturing him this time out, driving him to tears on at least two occasions and making him look like the petulant wannabe rock star that he's become. But while it's gratifying to watch the little bastard get knocked down a peg or eight, it's the exploits of Steve O and "Danger" Ehren McGhehey — who occupies the coveted, climactic, toy-car-up-the-butt slot that made Ryan Dunn such a sympathetic figure in the first movie — that linger uncomfortably in memory. In fact, what the crew does to McGhehey in the final stunt, provided it wasn't staged, is cruel enough to qualify as severe psychological torture. Yet Jackass remains excusable because the pain and humiliation is largely voluntary, and merely the wages of one's company kept when it isn't. That it's so remorselessly entertaining to so many might not speak particularly well of American society or, at least, that portion of it that adores Jackass (including those stodgy, pontificating critics at the major dailies), but, come to think of it, who's to say that the sight of a man simulating a field mouse via a sock slid over his penis in order to entice a bite from a fanged viper wouldn't have made H.L. Mencken bust a gut? He just wouldn't have admitted his enjoyment it in print, which, in the future, is an example the so-called intelligentsia should follow.

Paramount Home Entertainment presents Jackass Number Two in all its grungy, digitally-shot splendor with a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and flawless Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The unrated cut of the film isn't that much different from the theatrical version, though there is the added value of watching a leech get applied to one of Dave England's testicles (horrifying, yes, but still nothing compared to the Steve O's leech-on-the-eyeball stunt). Speaking of testicles, one gets slammed shut in a dictionary in one of the "Unrated Additional Segments" (6 min.), while a pair of 'em get tasered in one of the stunts found in the ostensibly tamer "Additional Segments" (28 min.), so that's good. McGhehey also contributes a phenomenal character-bit as a deranged homeless man that was inexplicably relegated to one-off status; if there's a third Jackass, this has to be reincorporated. Other extras include a behind-the-scenes doc (30 min.), deleted scenes (16 min.), outtakes (8 min.), unrated spots for the MTV Video Music Awards (2 min.), a music video, a photo gallery, and trailers. Also good for many, many laughs is the feature-length commentary featuring the entire Jackass crew save for Bam. He's probably going to pay for that. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks

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