— by Shawn Adler
HOLLYWOOD — Last time around, Johnny Knoxville and his friends were shot. They were electrocuted. They were bitten, bruised and beaten unconscious. Knoxville took a rental car to a demolition derby. He ate yellow snow. Another skit involved inserting a metal toy car into, well, a rather uncomfortable place.
They've already stretched the limits of decency with gratuitous expectoration, defecation and urination — so is there anything these guys wouldn't do for a laugh?
"No," an adamant Knoxville insisted. "I mean, [in 'Number Two'] I'm [fondling] a horse and [Chris] Pontius is drinking its [bodily fluid.]"
Welcome to the world of "Jackass." The second feature-length offering of the troupe's unique brand of physical comedy is a sadomasochistic trip down memory lane, complete with spanking new stunts (and spanking!) meant to amuse and shock.
"It's really terrible," director Jeff Tremaine warned. "Our moral standards have just fallen through the roof."
And that's meant to encourage you to see it. "There's a line, and then we cross it, and then there is another line, and we keep crossing it," Knoxville added. "It keeps getting worse and worse. We're supposed to [reel] it in, but we keep casting it up."
Still, despite the evolving nature of the stunts and the increasing risks they pose, Tremaine asserted that nobody consciously tried to outdo the last movie, which grossed almost $80 million worldwide by being gross.
"I think that's sort of a bad habit to get in, thinking you always have to outdo the last thing," the director said. "I think if you just do what you do, it's going to naturally evolve. Maybe secretly everyone had in their mind to outdo the last one, but really I think you just have to do what you do."
For the film's stars, doing what they do best meant constantly putting themselves in real danger. And they couldn't do it alone. According to the cast, being a part of "Jackass" means being a part of a team, like spokes on a wheel (that you stick your arm through).
"I don't think [the stunts] are a competition," Steve-O declared. "I think when someone gets something amazing, everyone gets jealous and they want something amazing too. So it's kind of like a healthy kind of creative pool of teamwork going on."
If "Jackass" is a pool, then it's got the largest deep end imaginable, full of dark and dangerous waters. Nobody knows that better than Steve-O. A veteran "Jackass" member and graduate of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, the 32-year-old actor's most frightening stunt in "Number Two," called "Man Bait," sees him stick a hook through his mouth and jump into shark-infested waters while wriggling at the end of a fishing line.
Crazy? Not according to co-star Chris Pontius.
"I've got to admit, when [Steve-O] was in the water with those sharks I was kind of jealous," Pontius divulged. "Even though it was scary, like, I kind of wished it was me. Everyone wants a little bit of glory."
The castmembers are so supportive of each other that they even sometimes find it difficult to watch the others perform. "We get worried when the other ones are in deep danger," Pontius said. "For Chris and I to watch Knoxville and all the stuff he did — that was probably the hardest for us," recalled Steve-O. "I can easily say that watching Knoxville go is the hardest. But then Knoxville, you know, there is stuff that we do that he can't watch."
This kind of all-for-one, one-for-all mentality in the face of overwhelming physical pain is rarely seen outside of extraordinarily dangerous and extreme circumstances, like soldiers bonding on a battlefield. But the cast of "Jackass" do go through the worst of it together. Two of the most dangerous stunts in "Number Two" involve the entire cast, including the opening sequence, in which everyone runs from bulls rampaging through a suburban street.
"The real running of the bulls is in Pamplona, Spain, and they've got, like, 1,000 people and nine bulls," Steve-O estimated. "We've got, like, nine people and 45 bulls. It's like, what the hell?"
With friends like these, who needs enemies — or, for that matter, a director? "What's direction to me?" Knoxville asked. " 'Stand in this spot and hang on to this!' That's all I can do — stand in one spot and hang on to this."
Tremaine conceded he was more accomplice than auteur on the set. According to the director, his biggest and most important daily task was preparing the cast to undertake new and dizzying heights of lunacy.
"Sometimes I can't tell the guys [about the stunt] because it's a sabotage, but my job is more to commit somebody to do something [than anything]," he confessed. "At the end either I have to high-five them or say I'm sorry, or worst-case scenario, give them a big hug or join them in the ambulance."
Knoxville admitted that he took trips in the ambulance with Jeff "a couple of times." Which isn't surprising, of course, considering he got at least some of the ideas for "Number Two" from a cartoon show.
|The stars of "Jackass" have been um, experimenting on film for quite some time. Here are some of their most memorable moments:
"Me getting smoked by a yak, an 1,800-pound yak, blindfolded with a cigarette — [that's] just funny," Knoxville said, explaining one of his featured stunts. "I saw it on a 'Tom and Jerry' cartoon, and was just like, 'Wow! That'll look good for us.' "
The ideas, wherever they originate, keep on coming. Castmembers are already thinking up outrageous stunts for the next "Jackass" installment. "If I could just weasel my [privates] into [an inappropriate location] of a big cat, say like a jaguar, leopard or preferably a lion," Steve-O mused, "I would feel like I would be the ultimate stuntman."
It's good, then, that the cast is so supportive of each other, because for Steve-O to pull off a stunt like that, he'd need all the help he could get — and maybe even a little divine intervention.
"It's funny, but there is nobody on the 'Jackass' cast that subscribes to an organized religion," Steve-O said. "But I think we all genuinely believe that there is an entity looking out for us."
And if not an entity, at least, thank goodness, a solid HMO. After "Number Two," they certainly need it.