One of my most amusing memories as a member of the New York Film Critics Circle is the 2002 voting meeting, at which we selected our award-winners - and Jackass: The Movie nearly ran away with the prize as the year's best nonfiction film.
It was one of those crazy moments, where a sudden blip in the zeitgeist of the room led a number of (I assume) the male members of the group to hop on the Jackass bandwagon. It may have been one faction's way of denying the award to Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine, but Jackass accrued an increasing number of votes in each round of the voting, enough to deny Moore the award, which eventually went to Standing in the Shadows of Motown.
Had Jackass won, it would have been the biggest upset since dark horse Cameron Diaz won the NYFCC award as best actress of 1998 for There's Something About Mary, over such front-runners as Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth and Fernanda Montenegro for Central Station.
I doubt that Jackass 3D will win any awards, though it's already taken the one that really counts: as box-office champ of its opening weekend, setting some sort of record for an October debut. I will admit that the overpriced cost of my admission (thanks to the 3D surcharge) contributed to that total, because Paramount's only press screening was at 10 p.m. last Thursday night.
For my money, Jackass Number Two is still the funniest of this series of films, which have been spun off from the tamer TV version that ran on MTV from 2000-02. But I will admit to howling with laughter at J3D on numerous occasions.
I can't explain why, but it is always funny - at least to most guys - to see someone get whacked in the nuts unexpectedly and double over in pain. Perhaps it's the difficulty to achieve that kind of precision with the hit; perhaps it's awareness of the pain and a certain thankfulness not to be on the receiving end. Perhaps it's just a more intimate version of seeing someone slip on a banana peel.
As I watched Jackass 3D," I remained convinced that 3D is still just a money-making gimmick and a hype; this film would have been no worse (or no better) in 2D. I also thanked my lucky stars that it was not in Smell-O-Vision, given the number of bodily fluids (and solids) that went airborne at various moments.
But I laughed whenever a stunt induced vomiting in an on-camera onlooker or participant (key gross-out moment: when Steve-O drinks a glass of sweat accumulated from fellow Jackass Preston Lacey and upchucks violently, inducing cameraman Lance Bangs to puke on his own camera). The amusement properties of shock value and gross, vulgar humor cannot be underestimated, I guess.
I also laughed uproariously when two of the Jackasses, dressed in marching band uniforms, climbed into a pen with a very aggressive ram, under the pretense of trying to sooth the savage beast with music. The ram proceeded to pound the living crap out of them, butting them repeatedly with terrific force.
The Jackass lineup of activities ranges from stupid daredevilism (jumping a jet ski out of a lap pool over a hedge) to ridiculous risks (Johnny Knoxville in a ring with a bull and then with a herd of buffalo - both of which butt him ferociously) to crude Candid Camera stunts. Much of it has the feel of something dreamed up while sitting around the bong and spitballing: "Hey, wouldn't it be funny if we tied one end of a string to my dick and the other end to a radio-controlled toy helicopter and then flew the helicopter? We could call it the 'Helicockter'."
Is this great cinema? No, of course not. But as I said, a lot of it made me laugh until I was gasping for breath. When it was over, I considered how glad I was not to be part of a group of pals where camaraderie involves pulling violent practical jokes on each other or goading each other into wilder and more dangerous stunts.
And when Steve-O strapped himself into a seat in a Porta-Potty whose bins were chockfull of dog droppings - and then allowed himself to be bungeed up into the air (creating the scatological equivalent of being inside a cocktail shaker) - well, as I said, I was supremely happy that this film did not include an olfactory component.