The ultra-lo-fi, skate-culture-spawned, extreme-stunt brand that turned its freak show of featured players—including a midget (Jason “Weeman” Acuña), a clown (Steve-O), and a greaseball stud (Bam Margera), all led by would-be actor-turned-ringleader Johnny Knoxville––into celebrities, the Jackass franchise pounces on Hollywood’s latest cash-cow fad with its third feature film. Even in 3-D, the basic formula is the same as it’s been for a decade: staged daredevil antics (one titled “Sweatsuit Cocktail” is slightly more literal than “Poo Cocktail Supreme”—but only slightly) alternate with hidden camera pranks on both unsuspecting strangers and one another (when you work for Jackass and someone asks you to bring them a tray of hot soup, be suspicious).
Not making a full 3-D film by any means, director Jeff Tremaine exploits the trendy format as punctuation to mostly 2-D action: Some stunts get high-def 3-D instant replay, others seem designed to climax in an immersive spray of bodily fluids. The visual one-liners (fart-powered dart gun, penis- as-baseball-bat) aren’t terribly fresh, but the comedy gets more complicated in stunts that force the stars to confront what they claim are their biggest fears. That these phobias mostly involve relatively mundane things like snakes and heights is fascinating, partially because the boys are so comparatively nonchalant when it comes to aggressively scatological and homoerotic setups (a “volcano” that erupts feces, two Jackasses superglued together in a 69 position), and partially because these fear-facing exercises allow for the expression of what seems like genuine, unscripted panic.
The sporadic technological polish of Jackass 3D is at odds with these flashes of ecstatic truth. The meticulously designed, extended opening and closing sequences, which present staged chaos in the contemporary 3-D equivalent of Matrix-style bullet-time, are impressively composed, but Jackass is at its best when all composition breaks down. Something like “Beehive Tetherball” gets its considerable power from the stunt going spectacularly wrong—and the handful of token in-your-face bees only distract from the disaster. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Jackass is only Jackass when all is going to shit.