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During dinner the other night, I got to pick the movie that a group of us would watch on the TV in the living room.

The choices? Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, Frank Tashlin’s Bachelor Flat, Yasujiro Ozu’s Good Morning, and Jackass 3.5.

I opted for Jackass 3.5.

As nutty as it sounds, I couldn’t resist the chance to see the 2011 sequel to Jackass 3D, featuring leftover footage from that film plus interviews with Jackass star Johnny Knoxville and other cast members.

By turns lame and hilarious, inane and inspired, Jackass 3.5 flaunts the foolhardy stunts and crotch humor that have made the participants famous (and infamous).

They surf over barrels. They aim basketballs and tennis balls at each other’s private parts. In one jaw-dropping skit, a woodpecker pecks at something it would never encounter in the wild. In another segment, an alligator snapping turtle bites a bare bottom, leaving a bloody wound.

There’s a gleeful nihilism at work here, a what-the-heck recklessness that shoves aside prudence and political correctness. As Johnny Knoxville once put it: “I just love that spirit that makes people do things that they probably shouldn't.”

Youthful males constitute most of the Jackass audience. They’re also the ones who make the mistake of attempting to duplicate the dangerous stunts. (Don’t try this stuff at home, kids!)

As a tea-sipping, arts-loving, garden-tending married mother of two, I don’t fit the target demographic. I’ve never ridden a skateboard. Or walloped anyone for fun. I’d much rather listen to opera than hip-hop. And I know more about Casablanca than The Hangover Part II.

So why do I like Jackass?

It makes me laugh so hard that tears run down my face. Jackass turns vulgarity into a virtue in ways that are often wildly inventive.

I wasn’t always so enthusiastic. About 12 years ago, when Big Screen blogger Scott Marks introduced me to Jackass through its MTV series, I was outraged by a skit about a baby. You may remember it. (Click here to refresh your memory.)

Knoxville pretends that he is an absent-minded parent who’s in a hurry. He drives off with a fake baby left in a carrier atop his vehicle, much to the horror of the passers-by who flag him down. I thought it was cruel to mock people for their compassion and concern. I still think it was mean. (Like when Mitt Romney put his dog in a carrier on the roof of his car.)

But the more I watched other Jackass episodes on MTV, the more my revulsion turned to fascination and finally, amusement. When the films came out, I saw them in San Diego: Jackass: The Movie (2002) in Mission Valley, Jackass Number Two (2006) at the Hazard Center, and Jackass 3D (2010) in Clairemont.

I get the most laughs when the Jackasses make juvenile fun of themselves instead of others. At the same time, I have a maternal concern for the well-being of these adrenaline-fueled thrill-seekers who are handsomely paid for their pranks. I hope they will be careful and avoid injuries that may have long-term consequences.

But it’s unlikely that Johnny, Steve-O, Bam, Wee Man, or any of the other participants are open to motherly advice. They’re more interested in new stunts, the more outrageous the better. To paraphrase a Jackass leitmotif, "If they're gonna be dumb, they gotta be tough."

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Comments

Scott Marks April 9, 2012 @ 12:30 p.m.

"I thought it was cruel to mock people for their compassion and concern."

Me, too.

Yeah. Right.

You should have seen the "kill the messenger" glint in Valerie's eyes when I first exposed her to the baby-on-the-roof gag. The alternating looks of repulsion and fascination was reminiscent of someone who had just seen the curtain-shot from "Pink Flamingos" for the first time. The following week brought grown men (and a hot chick) vomiting eggnog followed by Dave Englund pretending to be homeless and eating Hershey's syrup from a diaper he found strategically placed in a nearby trash can.

We have seen countless films on TV -- she owes me big time for her encyclopedic knowledge of Bob Hope vehicles -- but unless Valerie makes a rare cameo at a press screening, we seldom occupy the same theatre. "Jackass" is different. David "Infidel" Elliott is not a fan of the series and quit after Part 1. Valerie fails to mention that I was with her at each theatrical showing of the trilogy.

Valerie is a lifelong friend. From her flows knowledge of classical music, dance, and decorum -- not normally my strong suits. During Val's tenure at SDNN she proved to be a more than capable and extremely knowledgeable (and patient) editor. In exchange I introduced her to a band of tawdry mental patients eager to take a doody bath in an upside-down Port-O-San while photographed in the screen-piercing grandeur of 3D. We're even!

She is normally the snob and I the slob. I would much rather watch reruns of The Joey Bishop Show featuring Abby Dalton than fight off insomnia during Scher-favorite, Downton Abbey. Now if only next month Scher will share with The Big Screen her sudden conversion to The 3 Stooges several years after we met. Better yet, let's go out and hoist a dozen glasses of eggnog together!

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Valerie Scher April 9, 2012 @ 1:15 p.m.

Hey Scott. You want me to write about The 3 Stooges, too? Must another of my guilty pleasures be revealed? Isn't it enough that I confessed to being a fan of Jackass?

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David Elliott April 9, 2012 @ 2:16 p.m.

Valerie, it was not years of classical piano study that led you to the Jackasses. Nor your slightly guilty pleasure in the Three Stooges. It was, as I know from shared joy, your hours of contemplation spent on Mount Oscar (The Oscar, 1966). High on that peak, the Shangri-La of kitsch, you absorbed the truth so wisely perceived by Picasso's great biographer John Richardson, that the master "never lost his taste for bad taste, and knew exactly how to make it work for him." And think of all the philistines who called Picasso a jackass.

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Colonna April 9, 2012 @ 3:56 p.m.

The things you learn at The Big Screen".

May I ask David this: is that same mountain made of glass called "success"?

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David Elliott April 9, 2012 @ 4:24 p.m.

Yes, Colonna, it is. And on that glass mountain you can successfully dine on shoulder cut of Johnny, overturn a Green Goddess salad, panel your rumpus room in Quintaplak, admire the dusty wings of moths, and be asked about "the ethical structure of the universe" by a bee-hived blonde at a wet bar. And please, call me Bwana.

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