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If You’re Too Smart for ‘Jackass Forever’ or ‘Moonfall,’ You’re the Real Dummy

Think less and laugh more at this week's two biggest releases.

MTV Entertainment Studios/Paramount; Reiner Bajo|

Would you rather: Kiss a snake or fly into the center of the moon?

When you leave a preview screening, a publicist posted at the theater exit typically asks if you enjoyed the movie and, if so, what you liked most about it. But somehow after Jackass Forever the other night I didn’t quite feel comfortable saying “Either the part when they covered Steve-O’s dick with bees or when they dumped a bucket of pig cum on Dave England” so I just giggled.

Honestly, the only review of a Jackass movie that matters is the kind where you and your buddies mention your favorite bits while laughing till you can’t breathe. (That’s why this thread rules.) Sure, it’s worth mentioning that there’s kind of a “one last big score” feel to the way Jackass Forever reunites the crew of stuntmen/practical jokers/punishment gluttons, and their unfussy guys-being-dudes camaraderie has deepened with age. But some critics are making way too much ado about how broad-minded they are for laughing at Danger Ehren taking a fast-pitch softball to the nuts. I mean, that’s just empirically hilarious.

Still, if the corrective is overstated, it’s overdue. Historians of moral panics should peep back at reviews of 2002’s Jackass: The Movie, which read as if critics had just stumbled out of a double-feature of Salò and Faces of Death to discover a world in flames. In their heyday, Johnny Knoxville and his compliantly masochist idiots were blamed for everything from your dumb kid’s skateboard injuries to Abu Ghraib. Now that visible puking is a staple of prestige moviemaking and we know that what 70-year-olds watch on TV is more socially corrosive than what teens watch, we humans of the future, wiser and more tasteful in our tastelessness, can say this for sure: Of all the dipshit turn-of-the-millennium extreme shock bros, the Jackass gang landed on the rightest side of history. Even if they probably landed on their heads.

Though Forever revisits some of the classics—an updated cup test, bungee cord wedgies, human skateboard ramps—it isn’t exactly like old times. With Bam Margera AWOL due to substance abuse issues and the remaining Jackass veterans no longer as spry as they once were, a few younger bodies (including, gosh, a woman!) are brought in to withstand higher degrees of torment. And Knoxville has OK-not-exactly-matured-but-you-know-what-I-mean into an elder statesman of dick-punch finesse: His silver-fox astroturf-green cardigan and unbuttoned flannel look is, in particular, one any quinquagenarian should envy.

Like all slapstick, Jackass is sadism as farce, though it revels in the gracelessness of human pain rather than the physical poetry of a body sent accidentally into motion. Also the actuality of human pain: Jackass is to the Three Stooges as porn is to Fifty Shades of Grey. But while offscreen director Jeff Tremaine largely escapes comeuppance, Knoxville earns his slot as torture chamber ringmaster by taking the hardest hit of all, from a bull that sends him to the ER. Other troublesome animals include scorpions, spiders, rattlesnakes, vultures, a bear, and the aforementioned bees. And for real, no men have ever bypassed the regular biological function of their penises to find so many alternate purposes: Here we get a cock-operated kaiju and a genital handle for a ping pong paddle. All I know is, if I could take hobble away from as many groin hits as these guys, I would feel fucking invincible.

Jackass sets a mighty high bar, but I laughed almost as much, or at least as hard, at Moonfall. At times I doubted that Roland Emmerich’s latest cosmic disaster flick would be as consistently ridiculous as a movie about a disgraced former astronaut (Patrick Wilson), Sam from Game of Thrones (John Bradley), and the acting head of NASA (Halle Berry) battling an alien intelligence determined to crash the moon into the Earth should be. Emmerich’s earnest shamelessness isn’t always trustworthy after all. We start out with Berry’s Jocinda Fowler and Wilson’s Brian Harper bantering about the lyrics to Toto’s “Africa” during an (ill-fated!) space mission, followed by some boring old family squabbles: Jocinda’s with her military ex-husband (Eme Ikwuakor), Brian’s with his good-kid-gone-wrong son (long-lost Hanson brother Charlie Plummer), and that perennial Emmerich character fave, the ex-wife’s despised new husband (Michael Peña). I got restless. Are we gonna blow up the fucking moon or not?

But the absurdity gathers needed steam once Bradley’s KC Houseman, an amateur astronomer, discovers that the moon’s orbit has changed, proving his long held theory that our satellite is actually a hollow, artificial megastructure. (His gonzo lunar theories are more believable than his status as a marginalized crackpot. IRL he’d surely have been on Rogan at least once and he’d be inescapable on YouTube.) Simultaneously, Jocinda gets a call from NASA (we know because “NASA” shows up in the caller ID) confirming the news that the moon is approaching Earth—scientists optimistically predict that they have several months before the titular moonfall, but then realize that as the moon gets closer, “our months will get shorter.”

Then Donald Sutherland shows up, and I may have (did) shouted “yes!” A man who has served for almost 30 years now as a shaggy 6’4” wink at the audience that everything’s about to get just the right kind of dumb, Sutherland tells Jocinda the truth about the moon landing, just as he once clued Kevin Costner in to the details of JFK assassination, though he’s a bit more succinct here. (Quick, someone cast Sutherland as The Man Who Knows What Happened on 9/11 so he can complete his truther trifecta.) He’s so eager to scuttle back offscreen his last line should be, “Do you know what time the bank closes?”

As the moon gets near, and civilization breaks down, our heroes commandeer a retired space shuttle from a museum for a special mission. (I am disappointed to learn that apparently the “Fuck the Moon” graffiti seen on the shuttle in my preview has been PG-13ified to merely “Screw.” Censorship!) Using science and stuff, they devise a plan to destroy an AI that looks like an eel made out of metal shavings and inhabits the moon’s core—and fast, before the U.S. military loses patience and nukes the moon. It’s all very fun to look at in Emmerich’s elaborate fake-ass computer-generated way, and the payoff—an extended exposition scene where Brian discovers nothing less than the nature of human existence—truly delivers.

Emmerich has destroyed our planet so often that the process is kinda old hat to him. The spectacle of annihilation mostly just kind of happens in the background here while people run around and make up new science facts—some meteors crashing here, oxygen vanishing there, gravity flipping over an eighteen-wheeler or a yacht, lots of water wooshing. There’s a subplot where Harper’s son and Jocinda’s au pair (Kelly Yu) engage in schlock B-movie heroism so we can watch mountains crumble. It’s all a little hard to keep track of, but one point, I believe, they successfully run away from gravity.

Also, whoever decided to invite the U of M astrophysics department to a preview of Moonfall is a dang genius. They were giddy at the many (all) scientific inaccuracies, which didn’t take a huge science-brain: I caught most of ’em and I’m someone who thinks that if you turn the thermostat up higher your house gets warmer faster. But they also seemed ot have a good time, though they groaned appropriately when Elon Musk was mentioned favorably. (Musk’s SpaceX gets some of the most enviable product placement since E.T. discovered Reese’s Pieces.)

Berry, who is good at good acting and great at bad acting, knows which is called for when delivering lines like “Everything we thought we knew about the nature of the universe has been proven wrong.”

Wilson, who looks suitably astronautical with his finely lined face, stately forehead, and quarter-to-six o’clock shadow, plays Brian little too straight. But the dialogue does most of the comic lifting here. (“Why are you here?” Brian’s son demands huffily when he’s reunited with his dad at the Johnson Space Center. “You hate NASA!”) If there was a single line in Moonfall that mentioned the moon and was not hilarious, I must have missed it—probably because I was still laughing at the last line that mentioned the moon.

Jackass Forever and Moonfall are in theaters starting today.

Click here for this week's complete movie listings.

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