It would be easy for me to hold Jackass: The Movie up as a leading example of the decline of Western civilization. And perhaps that's the review this feature-length version of the popular MTV series deserves. I certainly can't say that I enjoyed watching Jackass' gang of idiots, led by aspiring movie star Johnny Knoxville (Men in Black II, Big Trouble), come up with increasingly outrageous ways of hurting themselves on camera. Nor did I find the more humor-based stunts (i.e., those that featured the guys humiliating other people instead of each other) all that funny. I do own up to cracking a smile when several of them donned panda suits and raced through the streets of Tokyo wreaking havoc. And I actually caught myself chuckling at the Monty Python-esque sequence in which Knoxville and producer Spike Jonze tooled around Los Angeles dressed as senior citizens, complete with old-age makeup. For the majority of the film's 85-minute running time, however, I stared dumbfounded at the screen, trying to figure out what the hell I was watching.

But then, having never seen an episode of the show, I'm really not a part of the movie's target demographic. The audience at the screening, on the other hand, obviously was and they went crazy for it. The grosser the stunt, the louder their laughter. This isn't news, of course; scatological and sadism-based humor have been Hollywood mainstays for several years now, primarily because that's what so many teen and twentysomething viewers are forking over their cash to see. As a fan of There's Something About Mary, South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut and even the American Pie movies (well, the first one anyway), I do think there is a place for this kind of comedy on movie screens. What disturbs me about Jackass isn't so much the stunts themselves (hey, if you want to stick a toy car up your rectum or snort wasabi until you barf, be my guest), it's the film's, and by extension the audience's, cavalier attitude towards pain. After all, you can't use the "It's only a movie" excuse here; all the blood, body fluids and assorted wounds are 100% real. Yes, the Jackass guys know what they're getting into and perform the stunts willingly, even eagerly, but honestly, where's the comedy in watching a semi-conscious and bleeding Knoxville wondering out loud if he has a concussion? Jackass appears to be hailing the birth of a new reality genre: Call it America's Most Sadistic Home-Videos.

Yet there will be a large number of viewers who'll find the movie hilarious, and who am I to tell them they're wrong? I can't apply my usual critical criteria to Jackass, because it deliberately defies any and all cinematic conventions. There's no story or characters to analyze and the technical aspects--direction, cinematography, editing…hell, even the production design--are purely functional, not artistic. Simply put, there's no movie to review here, just a series of blackout scenes you're either going to find supremely funny or incredibly idiotic. In a way, Jackass: The Movie may be the most experimental feature ever released by a major Hollywood studio. That thought, and the fact that the MPAA only assigned this celebration of masochism and the human ass an "R" rating (there's more male nudity, both frontal and otherwise, on display here than in any American-made movie since the NC-17-rated Bad Lieutenant), strikes me as far funnier than the film itself.

--Ethan Alter