Any episode of "Jackass" or its two movies, the second of which opens today, kicks off with a disclaimer. Don't try this at home, it pleads. That's always sobering advice, though I'm fairly certain that an evening of sticking my hand in a bear trap is not in the cards. Neither is an afternoon spent impaling my cheek with a fishhook, then leaping into the Gulf of Mexico tethered to a fishing pole to pose as shark bait. Nor should they be for you.
Watching a bunch of dudes in a movie do it is an entirely different story. "Jackass Number Two" is another scrapbook of bad ideas made excruciatingly and uproariously real. Those who seek to imitate such activities are, like the movie's merry gang of lunatics, crazy.
Filmed in appropriately crude digital video, ``Jackass Number Two" arrives only weeks after Steve Irwin's ugly demise at the point of a stingray, and the sight of these guys doing a stunt called Anaconda Ball Pit (two snakes, a tank of plastic fun balls, and three Jackassers) leaves you fearful for their lives. No one in the "Jackass" franchise appears to proceed with caution, which, of course, is the fascinating point of these adventures.
Officially, Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Steve-O, Chris Pontius, and the rest of the "Jackass" crew are not scientists. But their comedy qualifies as research, and their research, consequently, deserves to be considered comedy. The subject is the human body, and their experiments challenge man's capacity for pain. In a sense, this makes them corporeal frontiersmen. In fact, the only person in the history of movies as devoted to subverting bodily norms is David Cronenberg. And not even he's come up with a character who can receive a beer enema with such glee. (Let's hear it for Steve-O.)
In ``Number Two," we see the body reach its visceral limit (expressed usually by vomiting), and we see that limit's psychological manifestation: fear. Margera, the most amiable member of the gang, runs for his life from a cobra and more than once is filmed near tears. (After Medicine Ball Dodgeball, he declares, ``That was fun. Let's never do that again.") Apparently, Knoxville, who is mauled by bulls on several occasions, fears nothing. As the leader of this outfit, he's like a gutter-rat George Clooney, and his crew is a skate-park Ocean's 12.
The double feat of ``Jackass" is that it weds the obviously juvenile with the arrestingly profound. The boys of Delta Kappa Epsilon and their TAs can watch this movie in the same theater. Many smarty-pants have noted that ``Jackass" distills physical comedy to its essence, while scrapping narrative altogether. The stunts (in ``Number Two," Margera aptly refers to them as bits) are the joke, and the body becomes the punch line. This is extreme comedy, and it's amazing how director Jeff Tremaine, who along with Spike Jonze has been affiliated with this troupe from its outset, creates an environment where self-inflicted torture is uncontrollably funny without being morally offensive.
Still, given the devouring of animal secretions and the abundance of buttocks and penises on display, it's a miracle that the MPAA let ``Number Two" off with a mere R. ``Jackass" has always comfortably straddled the line between the gay and the brotherly. This is a world largely absent women, and its orbit gleefully revolves around the phallus. And this second movie actually suggests a kind of coming out. John Waters, who is this crew's transgressive uncle, shows up for one gag, and the final shot belongs to Rip Taylor, who walks on after the film's big Broadway/Hollywood-style musical number. That is correct. There's a musical number, and any frat dude in the audience will tell you: It's fabulous!
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.