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Pain and feces 

Third 'Jackass' mines formula deeper.

click to enlarge 'JACKASS 3D': Johnny Knoxville returns.
  • 'JACKASS 3D': Johnny Knoxville returns.

Avoid "Jackass 3-D" if you want to believe in the intrinsic worth of the human spirit. The film contains urine ambushes. It celebrates malice toward testicles. It harnesses flatulence as weaponry. It leers at men's mortal terrors. It enlists unsuspecting animals for its devilish stunts: buffalo, scorpions, Africanized bees, a woodpecker, a dog, snakes, a donkey, a ram, a bull, Minnesota Vikings lineman Jared Allen and a very realistic gorilla costume. It treats common decency as a suppository, and it doesn't contain a single joke that would go over the head of a discerning 4-year-old. You're better off if you can look away. No shame, though, if you can't.

Anyone not yet familiar with the "Jackass" modus operandi has probably been living under a rock – one which ringleader Johnny Knoxville would gladly drop on his best friends' testicles. Knoxville is the Terminator of pratfalls; it's a mystery how the guy can still sit up all these years, let alone walk away from getting his face kicked by a bull. He and an assortment of equally heedless chums continually try to one-up one another's dangerous/ridiculous buffoonery, like the Three Stooges crossed with backyard wrestling.

In this installment, the third movie spawned from the eponymous MTV show, the crew has applied itself largely to playing with of elastic-band catapults and blindside haymakers and jet engine exhaust. The players' age may be showing a bit: There seem to be fewer falls and hard collisions here, as though the men know they're becoming more brittle. But then, their ongoing love affair with their own excrement stops just shy of a make-out session with feces.

On that note, somewhere deep in the second horrific hour of "Jackass 3-D," you may realize you've lost count of how many bystanders to the film's stunts throw up. As gross and gruesome as they are, some of the shots are plain mesmerizing. The 3-D is as 3-D usually is: just OK. But the film could just as enticingly be titled "Jackass Super Mindblowing Slow-Motion." It's a zoo of physical traumas caught in the same macabre rubbernecking style as ringside boxing photos, in which a fighter's face crumples grotesquely mid-punch. You'll never think of a fat man getting shot in the gut by a cannon the same way again.

To assume it's all nihilistic is shortchanging the brilliance of the comedic formula. Injuries aren't really funny, but just barely avoiding injury is often hilarious, and so many of the laughs of this movie are foremost catharsis. Thus, when one of the Jackasses submits to having one of his teeth pulled out by a cord tied to a Lamborghini, and he begins blubbering about the pain through a mouthful of blood – well, that's just damn awful. Alternately, when Bam Margera runs through a hallway festooned with live stun guns and cattle prods, and comes out looking like he regrets ever having heard the name Knoxville, that's worth applauding. Say what you will about the players, but at least they always mete out their own comeuppance.

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