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Jackass Number Two

(2006) ** 1/2 R
92 min. Paramount Pictures. Director: Jeff Tremaine. Cast: Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Ryan Dunn, Stephen 'Steve-O' Glover, Jason Acuna.

With the death of Steve Irwin still on the brain, Jackass Number Two arrives with a little extra baggage. Cinema's own Darwin Awards warn against copycatting but nevertheless locate their coolness in daredevil antics: in one of the film's most unsettling and therefore compelling sequences, Johnny Knoxville explains how an abortive stunt missed killing him by inches. Then, he proceeds to execute the stunt in spectactular fashion. Jackass' punk-rock allure may be pure schadenfreude, but the players enthusiastically enact their circus-like freak-and-geek show. Who are we to threaten their death-defying livelihood?

Not all ninety-two minutes can be devoted to near-death experiences, so Jackass Number Two gleefully serves up pranks on the unsuspecting public and its own testosterone-sweating ensemble. Spike Jonze, who produced the film, appears as a ninety-year-old biddy absurdly bearing her pendulous breasts in public; Knoxville suits up as profane "bad grandpa" Irving Zisman; later, Broken Lizard's Jay Chandresekhar punks one of Knoxville's mouth-breathing compatriots in an elaborate skit deriving its humor from terrorism, pubic hair, and the old bait-and-switch con.

Without doubt, the film is unsavory and juvenile, but these are director Jeff Tremaine's clear goals, ones that give Jackass Number Two a certain zen quality. As did Jackass: The Movie and the original MTV series, Jackass Number Two gives free rein to a band of unholy fools unabashedly devoted to exposing the darkest colors of the male id. Jackass defines this manhood by endurance of pain and humiliation (preferably coerced gay-teasing situations); what doesn't kill them only strengthens their ball-busting camaraderie.

Like the latest skating video, Jackass justifies its existence with innovations and gimmicks. Tony Hawk, John Waters, Three 6 Mafia, Mark Zupan of Murderball, and Luke Wilson lend cred, but clearly the formula is stretching to its natural limits: there are only so many nasty substances to ingest (both horse shit and horse semen throb down gullets this time—no doubt at the insistence of MPAA raters, the latter money shot must be partly covered with a "censored" box); so many ways to take shots to the head, chest, balls, and ass; so many dangerous animals to incite; and so many pictureseque ways to bare ass, bleed, and vomit.

The gang's all here, in full force. Steve-O takes a leech to the eye and a fishhook through the cheek; Bam Margera allows penises to be branded into his ass and his parents to be suckered repeatedly; and Wee Man runs about buck naked. Jackass truly thrives when the creative damage involves suspense, as in a horror-movie-worthy sequence of an anaconda sharing a ball pit with Knoxville and company, and another of the guys perched on a rodeo contraption called the Toro Totter. As if to predicts the exuberant "screw all y'all" musical finale (the La Cage Aux Folles number "The Best of Times), Knoxville at one point sports a T-shirt with a slogan that says it all: "Fuck Art: Let's Dance."

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