In October 2002, Johnny Knoxville and his band of merry, masochistic men made the leap from MTV to the big screen with Jacka--: The Movie. The controversial show, which featured all manner of pain-inflicting, wince-inducing stunts and skits was practically a guaranteed theatrical hit. And it did not disappoint. Made for a measly $5 million (George Lucas couldn't cough for that amount), the film raked in about $65 million in the U.S. and added another $15 million internationally.
A sequel, of course, was a forgone conclusion. Four years later—perhaps the time necessary for Johnny and the boys to heal wounds from the first movie—and it's time for Jacka--: Number Two (scatological reference definitely intended). What it's not time for is Plugged In Online's normal, detailed review. The sheer volume of content issues, not to mention the fact that many scenes are far too graphic to even hint at, much less describe, means that this review has been severely edited and restructured.
If you're unfamiliar with the kinds of risks these perpetual adolescents take, you might think of Jacka-- as a game of "Truth or Dare" run horribly amok—and sans the truth part. If I sat down with you and we spent a month brainstorming the most dangerous and painful things we might do to our bodies without permanently maiming or killing ourselves (if everything goes exactly right), we wouldn't come up with a tenth of what these pain-inflicting daredevils dream up.
That said, the stunts and skits in the film can generally be divided into five types. The first category involves being hurled through the air at high speed via various motorized means: Rockets propelling bikes, bayou airboats filling parachutes, etc. The second category is strictly about inflicting pain: Johnny Knoxville sticking his hand in a bear trap; Steve-O attaching a lobster claw to his tongue; jumping on rakes. A third has to do with close encounters with dangerous animals: sharks; angry long-horned cattle; snakes of various kinds.
Next, there are the gags engineered to make us gag, usually involving doing bad, bad things to friends' bodies—especially those parts that don't see the light of day too often. Bodily fluids and gasses from both humans and animals often play heave-inducing starring roles. And finally, Johnny enjoys dressing up as an elderly man or woman for bizarre, public, Candid Camera-style pranks that often involve exposing wrinkled private parts.
The point seems to be this: How much pain can a group of men inflict upon one another and survive? And who can top the rest in disgusting pranks?
Going to Extremely Extreme Extremes
Believe it or not, a man eating horse manure is arguably not the movie's most disgusting scene. The fact that half a dozen or so vignettes made participants, observers or cameramen vomit (onscreen) is telling. Among the worst were scenes that depicted drinking horse semen, committing sodomy with a dildo (shown twice, once in a slow-motion close up), and getting one's genitals bitten by a snake and frozen to a block of ice.
As for self- and group-mutilation, one of the guys shoves a huge fishhook through his cheek—then jumps in the water with sharks as "human bait." (A shark almost calls his bluff.) Another is branded on his bare backside six times with a male genital-shaped symbol.
Add in more male nudity—front and rear—than I've ever seen onscreen, men making a fake beard out of their shaved pubic hair, multiple shots of people excreting waste and more than 200 f-words (along with scores of other profanities), and you've got a film that descends into truly degenerate territory.
No Business Being in Show Business
It's hard to know, exactly, what to make of a culture that finds content like this entertaining. Bathroom humor and slapstick comedy have been staples for decades, of course. Fart jokes we'll always have with us. But watching someone pass gas into a tube that leads straight to another man wearing an enclosed helmet is something else entirely. Knoxville and Co. have taken these locker room standbys to extremes so extreme even they struggle to top themselves.
After you willingly consume the bodily fluids of an animal, where is there left to go? Short of documenting bestiality or necrophilia, what lines are left to cross? If shoving a fishhook through someone's face is supposed to be funny, what's the logical end of the path? Watching someone die? Jacka-- makes me wonder how far away we really are from the ancient Roman culture that cheered on the bloody gladiator contests.
We're too civilized for that, we gloat. But we aren't.
That the theater I attended was full of eager young men adds emphasis. I fear we're becoming a culture that's damagingly desensitized to what it means to be a human being. No one in this film, for example, stopped to consider whether giving their friend an enema with a beer bong—then watching as he excreted it out on camera—constituted behavior to which human beings should aspire. Ditto branding a phallic symbol on someone's backside—and a host of other equally disgusting things in this film that I haven't the fortitude to write about, and you haven't the stomach to read.
I realize sentiments such as the ones above are exactly the kind of press the filmmakers expect—and crave. Maybe my remarks will make it onto the poster for Number Three, just as this film's ad campaign gleefully used critics' despairing comments from the first installment. Or maybe one of these guys will in fact go too far in their dangerous game of "Quadruple-Infinite Dog Dare." Had Steve-O lost a leg to the mako shark that tried to bite him, it might have given him pause to wonder if being on Jacka-- was really worth it. I wish no such tragedy on any of these men. But I can't help but think that's what it might take to jolt them—and perhaps their audience—out of their miserable state of mindless masochism.
The film's final skit (not counting outtakes) sums up my feelings. One of the guys is at the end of his rope as a result of unrelenting pranks that have been played on him. As he tries to put his pants on, he steps into holes the guys have dug to trip him up. Upset, he blurts out what may well be a fireable offense when you're working for Johnny Knoxville: "It's not even funny anymore."