Somewhere between the corporeal torture and the attempt at lighting a fart on fire under water in Jackass Forever, it becomes clear that something is missing.
Most of the cast, including Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, and Chris Pontius, are still there. And they’re more willing than ever to sacrifice their bodies for our entertainment, so it’s not a lack of effort. There are even some new cast members this time around — like Loiter Squad’s Jasper Dolphin and comedian Rachel Wolfson — leading to the most diverse group of Jackasses ever seen on screen.
And it’s doing well at the box office, too, pulling in more than $37 million domestically since its release earlier this month, and toppling Spider-Man: No Way Home from the number one spot in its opening weekend. Even critics seem to be enjoy the film, with the movie pulling an overall 86% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and the Washington Post calling it not only hilarious, but “surprisingly touching.”
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But conspicuously absent from the film is West Chester’s own Bam Margera, a former mainstay of the cast now more known for painful Internet meltdowns than excruciatingly funny stunts. For the film’s entire 96-minute runtime, there’s not a heartagram to be seen or a hoagiemouth accent to be heard, and, somehow, it feels like Jackass Forever suffers for Margera’s exclusion.
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For fans of Jackass or Margera, though, Bam’s absence won’t come as a surprise. Paramount Pictures, the film’s studio, fired him from Jackass Forever last year after the star allegedly broke a “wellness agreement” in his contract that required him to undergo regular drug and alcohol tests and take prescribed medication, TMZ reported. Margera’s ouster happened after a drug test found he had been taking Adderall, for which the star says he has a prescription, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
The former pro skateboarder filed a lawsuit against the production, claiming he was subjected to “inhumane, abusive, and discriminatory treatment” when director Jeff Tremaine, producer Spike Jonze, and Knoxville” “coerced him into signing” the wellness agreement. Tremaine, meanwhile, was granted a restraining order against Margera after Margera allegedly sent him death threats.
So, Jackass Forever carried on without him, mostly. Margera actually does make a brief cameo in one scene involving a marching band and a treadmill, but if you’re not looking for him, you’re likely to miss him. In the credits, his name appears nearly at the end — 45th of 49 listed. And on the film’s IMDB page, he receives a “concepts by” writer’s credit.
Bam’s absence is acutely felt. The stunts in Jackass Forever don’t feel as anarchic as the previous movies and now-vintage MTV episodes. They feel more controlled, more considered, and, oddly, more professional — a far cry from the bad behavior in the Big Brother magazine and CKY videos that melded to form what would become the Jackass franchise back in 2000.
Produced by Margera, local filmmaker Joe Frantz, and others, the CKY series of tapes and DVDs served up a combination of pranks, stunts, and skateboarding filmed mostly in the Philadelphia area. But, more importantly, they also were most folks’ first introduction to not only Margera, but the cast of Chester County characters (collectively known as the “CKY Crew”) that would become well-known to fans on shows like Jackass, Viva La Bam, and Bam’s Unholy Union — like the late Ryan Dunn, Margera’s parents April and Phil, Brandon DiCamillo, Rake Yohn, Brandon Novak, and Chris Raab.
Like Margera, they’re pretty much all missing from Jackass Forever, too. Raab (a.k.a. Raab Himself), however, does make a brief appearance during the film’s credits, and it’s dedicated to Dunn, who died at 34 in a car crash in West Goshen Township in 2011 (along with production assistant Zachary Hartwell).
But without the CKY crew, it does feel like the series is missing the sort of suburban, Chester County mayhem that was integral to Jackass’ beginnings. After all, that unique brand of regional Philly chaos is built in to its DNA, thanks to Bam and co.’s contributions.
Also, a big draw of seeing a 2022 version of Jackass is the nostalgic hit of watching a big group of friends get together and enjoy torturing the hell out of each other, which, at least in some sense, feels like it’s missing in the newest iteration because this integral aspect of the cast is just gone.
Then again, maybe Jackass never had a chance at feeling like the good old days. After all, we’re older now, and so is the cast. They’ve suffered serious injuries, gone through their own highly publicized struggles with sobriety in many cases, and lost friends like Dunn along the way. And, for the most part, they’ve come out with a wiser, healthier perspective on life. As Pontius puts it in the movie, they’ve paid their dues.
Margera, however, has gone through all those things, too. Dunn’s death especially put him in a “deep downward spiral,” as Margera told The Inquirer in 2017. His struggles with mental health issues and substance abuse are equally well-publicized as those of castmembers like Steve-O, if not more so. He’s broken eight ribs, his foot (in three places), and his tailbone as part of the Jackass cast, he once told The Inquirer. Now at 42, he still seems like pretty much the same old Bam, at least publicly — which, for fans, is kind of a bummer, considering how we’ve seen the other Jackass guys grow up.
And the Jackass guys don’t seem to like it, either.
“It’s really heartbreaking,” Knoxville said of Margera’s exclusion from Jackass Forever in a recent interview with Variety. “I love Bam. We all love Bam. He’s our brother, you know? You just hope that he takes it upon himself to get the help that he needs, because we all care about him a lot.”