John Waters, back in his trash-underground days, used to say that if somebody in the audience for one of his films vomited, that was better than getting a standing ovation. In Jackass 3D, the equivalent mark of excellence comes when the cameraman vomits in one case, right onto the viewfinder that he can no longer bear to hold upright. The occasion is a stunt called ''Sweatsuit Cocktail,'' in which Preston Lacy, the group's resident portly punching bag, walks on a treadmill while wearing plastic wrap as his sweat gets funneled into a cup. When enough of the nasty body juice has been gathered, Steve-O, arguably the gang's most joyful and reckless psycho-daredevil, takes the cup and drinks it down. Like a lot of what transpires in Jackass 3D, it's really a suspense sequence (Can he take it? What will happen?), and in this case gulp! the payoff doesn't disappoint. It's disgusting and hilarious (two great tastes that taste great together). And we in the audience think, Bravo!
After all these years of sick-puppy gags and fearless self-mutilation, Johnny Knoxville, the leader of the Jackass gang, still looks like a Dogpatch version of Jim Carrey. He still acts like one, too; he may be the purest, most devoted slapstick anarchist in comedy today. It's inevitable, after two previous Jackass films and dozens of television episodes, that we're going to want to see Knoxville and the boys top themselves, which in Jackass 3D they ultimately do. Yet it's part of the scuzzy-spontaneous, arrested-child-with-a-camcorder spirit of Jackass that some ideas of bodily harm simply never get old. The boys are still addicted to taking slapdash Evil Knievel leaps on jet skis and mini-bikes, to getting hit in the face with oversize projectiles, and to finding bold new ways (a charging buffalo, anyone?) to get smashed in the nuts. At this point, much of this stuff is like comfort food it's an almost reassuring ritual in their brotherhood of pain. And the fact that these men, most of them now in their late 30s, can still crack up like hyenas over each other's stunts is a big part of the movie's jokey sadomasochistic charm. It's a way of letting us know that their mutually abusive, winkingly homoerotic frat-house bonding is really a higher form of friendship.
Having lost its novelty, a little of this stuff now goes a very long way; some of it is frankly wearying. And the 3D, I'm crushed to say, is the usual big nothing, a vacuous selling point that the movie never begins to take advantage of. There isn't a single bit that uses 3D to up the yuck factor, or to make us feel like we're the ones getting poked. That said, Jackass 3D has the moments you crave, the ones that go beyond standard pain-freak buffoonery to attain a kind of gloriously demented, jaw-dropping daftness. Like one in which the boys assume the role of prisoners escaping through an alleyway strung with 950,000-volt stun guns, or the gluing of one man's hands onto two others' abundant chest hair, or a game of pin the tail on the donkey with a real, live, kicking donkey. And I haven't even mentioned the ''Lamborghini Tooth Pull'' (don't think too hard it's just what it sounds like), or Steve-O getting locked into a bungee-corded Porta Potty filled with dog excrement for the ''Poo Cocktail Supreme.'' 3D or no 3D, this one is literally in your face.
There is, as always, a quality of innocence to Jackass, a what will happen if we do this? fascination that the participants all share with the audience. More than ever, Johnny Knoxville and his boys belong to a very elite club of idiocy. They martyr themselves for our diversion, driven at every moment to ask: Are you not entertained? B