A Strange, New Direction for the Jackass Franchise
The third Jackass film, strangely titled Life As We Know It, represents a cleaner-shaven and buttoned-down Johnny Knoxville’s attempt at bringing some maturity to the franchise. In the process, he’s replaced Steve-O with a baby, traded in some old friends for new ones, and added a love interest to the mix, here played by Katherine Heigl, Knoxville’s co-star in the comedy retardé, The Ringer. Unfortunately, while this new grown-up version of Jackass has the trappings of a more mature film, the same sense of puerile juvenility pervades the effort. Certainly, Knoxville’s decision to exchange stunt gags for diaper jokes and greeting card sentiment achieves the same lowest-common denominator goal, yet it doesn’t contain any of the spirit of the earlier Jackass films. Moreover, while it makes financial sense to more readily extend the franchise to the female demographic, he alienates his male audience in what can only be considered a zero-sum stratagem.
Jackass 3: Life As We Know It contains only one stunt, and unfortunately, that stunt takes place off-screen, though we are led to believe that it entails driving a car into a ravine. The stunt leaves its two participants, Hayes MacArthur and the lovely Christina Hendricks — who is sadly never thrown bikini-clad into a bouncy house with a python — deceased. Knoxville and Heigl are left to deal with the aftermath, which includes taking custody of the dead couple’s child, Sophie, and moving in together, an unexpected progression for the series.
The free-wheeling, motorcycle-driving Knoxville, who goes by the enigmatic pseudonym, Josh Duhamel, is not particularly suited to fatherhood, and this new obligation wreaks havoc on his chain-fucking lifestyle. Heigl is tasked with providing some structure to Knoxville’s life, as well as that of the child, whose excretion habits make up a large bulk of the film’s attempts at humor. Heigl goes about this with a series of disapproving looks; bitchy, passive-aggressive laughter; and shrill exclamations of self-interest, signature moves from the veteran actress. Perplexingly, this behavior endears Knoxville to her, and in addition to bonding over the bowel movements of the young child, the two grow to love one another, only to be driven apart by an unexpected job promotion, and brought back together again by conventional antics that involve a chase to the airport.
If the series of contrivances and lame stabs at humor sounds out of place for a Jackass movie to you, then you are not alone. It’s a mysterious shift for the franchise, but while the new version doesn’t contain any of the preposterously adolescent stunts of the earlier films, it does contain an adolescent. Additionally, while the presence of Heigl recalls earlier-installment gags involving horse ejaculate and scrotum tears, it only reinforces what this installment is missing. To wit: Steve-O is the only love interest that Knoxville ever needed, and the chemistry between Heigl and Knoxville is unsurprisingly lacking by comparison. What is surprising, however, is the feat that director Greg Berlanti pulls off in dumbing down Knoxville from earlier films, a prospect I didn’t believe possible. His decision to leave the infant with a cab driver while he attended to his day job proved me wrong.
But there are spiritual similarities between this movie and the first two. They both appeal, for instance, to the same atrophied portion of our brains that has long since given up on intelligence, wit, or sophistication. The difference, of course, is that while the earlier Jackass films could provoke waves of unintended laughter brought upon by the infliction of pain on others, Jackass: Life As We Know It elicits no such laughter, and the only pain it inflicts is upon its viewer, a pain very similar to what I imagine having a condom stuffed with matchbox cars and firecrackers up my rectum might feel like.