01 December 2010

“Dante update neither divine nor comedy”

by Kyle Smith

[After the Johnny Knoxville movie Jackass 3D hit theaters on Friday, 15 October, my friend Kirk Woodward alerted me to Kyle Smith’s review in the New York Post. As I don’t read the Post regularly, I’d never have caught this review, particularly since the Jackass movies (this is the third, not counting the TV series) aren’t of much interest to me so I wouldn’t have made a survey of the critical reception the film received in the media. If Kirk hadn’t recommended that I have a look at Smith’s review because “in all our discussion of reviews, here’s something I think we didn’t expect,” I’d have missed something really quite wonderful.

[Readers of ROT will know that Kirk is the author of The Art of Writing Reviews on which I commented at length (“The Art of Writing Reviews by Kirk Woodward, Parts 1-4,” 4, 8, 11, 14 November 2009). In addition to my commentary on Kirk’s book, I, too, have written about reviewing and reviewers, notably in “On Reviewing,” 22 March 2009. Neither Kirk nor I, as he noted, anticipated an approach like Smith’s. I'm just guessing, of course, but I got the sense that Smith didn't really want to review Jackass. It's his job and he was handed the assignment, so he couldn't just blow it off, and writing a "serious" review would have been dull--both to do and to read, I imagine. I mean, what can you say about a movie that plays to the absolute lowest taste and intellect? No one really cares how this movie is reviewed: the people who like the Jackass flicks aren't going to care if some newspaper writer doesn't like it, and the people who share his opinion aren't going to go to it anyway. So what's the point? But Smith found a way to do something interesting while still fulfilling his responsibility: telling us what he thought about the movie. There’s a lesson here for all writers, including students, who are required to write about something in which they find little of interest or value. In that spirit, I’m reprinting Smiths review as it was posted on the New York Post’s website on 14 October (and published in the paper the next day). ~Rick]

When Dante ("Inferno," Canto XXII) wrote that "the captain made a trumpet of his ass," he could not have known how shamelessly he would be ripped off by "Jackass 3D," which shows a guy not only playing a trumpet out of his butt but also deploying his sphincter to blow up a balloon and tootle a party streamer.

Johnny Knoxville is fond of strenuous dumb-dude laughter (each segment features a few seconds of stunts followed by a long interlude of Johnny and his boys standing around whooping it up – the movie comes with its own laugh track). The idiocy is just an act.

Knoxville would never admit to such loser taste, but he and his friends are obviously scholars of "The Divine Comedy," from which they plagiarized all of their ideas and disguised them as silly stunts to infect the minds of American youth with 14th-century epic poetry. It's time someone called him out on this insidious campaign; why can't movies be mindless entertainment free of subversive educational agendas?

Consider: Both Dante and Knoxville are about halfway through life, each starring as narrators playing themselves. "I'm Johnny Knoxville." "I'm Johnny Knoxville. I'm Johnny Knoxville." What kind of film has its main character keep introducing himself? It cannot be that Johnny considers his viewers so deep-fried of brain that they forget who he is every five minutes. No, it's a clear parallel with Dante – who mentions himself even more times than Johnny.

A line from Canto I of "Inferno" could be used as the tagline for "Jackass 3D": "You shall hear the howls of desperation . . . as each of them laments." Dante's " 'Tis true I said to him in jest/that I could rise by flight into the air" (Canto XXIX) leads directly to Knoxville riding a Jet Ski up a ramp and flying into a hedge. Dante is tormented by a leopard, a lion, a she-wolf; Knoxville gets head-butted by a buffalo, a ram, a bull. Dante "entered on the deep and savage way" to get closer to God; Knoxville's journey leads to a climactic scene with a deity from the holy trinity of "The Gong Show" – Rip Taylor.

"The Divine Comedy" deals in poetic justice; in "Jackass 3D," a guy who thinks he is going to prank a friend (the sin of treachery!) is himself pranked by his friends – and subjected to his worst fear, being trapped in a snakepit.

A corpulent man – a human hog, you might say – is victimized by a real hog who gleefully consumes an apple placed in the glutton's ample pink buttocks.

The vainglorious Steve-O, proud of his bare, gym-built, copiously tattoo-decorated torso ("even the French can't match such vanity" – Canto XXIX) will find himself bungee-jumping inside a portable toilet. The outcome? Take it away, Canto XVIII: "I saw souls in the ditch plunged into excrement that might well have been flushed from our latrines . . . I saw somebody's head so smirched with s - - t, you could not tell if he were priest or layman."

Oh, and one more thing the comedy of "Jackass 3D" has in common with "The Divine Comedy": Neither of them is funny.

[What gets me most here is how Smith, even while taking a humorous approach that clearly is meant to make fun of the movie itself, still manages to tell us what he thinks of it (even though, until the last sentence, he doesn’t directly state his opinion). I especially like the part where Smith upbraids Hollywood for sneaking in so much surreptitious education. It’s delicious—and effective—use of irony. I'm not familiar enough with Divine Comedy to be sure Smith got all his refs right, but I'll bet he has, and the parallels he constructs, not entirely tortured, are terrific. So are the parallels he finds between Knoxville and Dante themselves. I think this may be one of the best reviews of a bad movie (in the opinion of the reviewer, of course)I've ever seen. I don’t know Smith’s writing, but I tip my hat to him as a writer and as a reviewer.]

No comments:

Post a Comment