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‘Jackass Forever’ is dumb, hilarious — and surprisingly touching

Johnny Knoxville. right, and Ehren McGhehey (known as “Danger Ehren”) in “Jackass Forever.” (Sean Cliver/Paramount Pictures/MTV Entertainment Studios)
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(3.5 stars)

Masculinity can be a prison. For some time now, many straight, White men have struggled against their fading cultural relevance. Some have coped in reprehensible, idiotic and scary ways. (Cases in point: Gamergate, Joe Rogan).

On the other hand, a handful have recognized that the noblest response to change may be to laugh in the face of their fading dudedom, by presenting a performative caricature of it.

Welcome to “Jackass Forever” (a.k.a. “America’s Funniest Home Videos” meets “The Three Stooges”).

Of course, it’s also fun to turn off your brain for 90 minutes. You’ll be awestruck at the many methods to inflict pain on a man’s nether regions that have been dreamed up by the “Jackass” team, a group of outcasts formed in 2000 by ringleader Johnny Knoxville, now 50, for his MTV reality show, and whose once all-male cast now includes a woman, Rachel Wolfson. Other newcomers include two Black cast members (Eric Manaka and Davon Lamar Wilson, known as Jasper) and Zach Holmes, who sports a tattoo of the “Jackass” logo: a skull and two crutches for crossbones.

A close reading of “Jackass Forever” uncovers an obsession with time and the legacy of the original show’s concept. Taken as a whole, the Jackass film series, which includes three previous movies, is about people realizing they’re less than invincible.

Knoxville has said that “Forever” will be his last appearance in the franchise, because he can no longer accept the insane physical risks. (In the movie, we see him being wheeled out of a hospital with a litany of injuries, after being gored by a bull.)

Despite the nutty stunts involving animals and several Stupid Human Tricks, there’s an air of solemnity to the proceedings. (In 2011, the crew lost Ryan Dunn, who died in a drunken-driving accident. And franchise veteran Bam Margera was fired from this production because of long-standing substance abuse.)

Celebrity guests include Eric André and Tyler the Creator, both of whom have TV shows that owe a debt of gratitude to “Jackass,” and who seem like fanboys — or a kind of family — in front of their heroes.

The stunts are masterfully dumb (and funny as ever). Some are elevated callbacks to “Jackass’s” lower-budget past. One of the few that can be described in a family newspaper involves a simple premise: Strap on an athletic cup and let some person or thing whale away. There’s a flashback to charming footage of Knoxville getting punched and kicked in his privates by young children. Fast-forward to the present day, as castmate Ehren McGhehey is shown receiving trauma to his family jewels from, in order: the fist of a UFC heavyweight champion; a softball from an Olympic pitcher; a hockey puck slap shot; and, most unfortunately, a pogo stick.

Not since “Magic Mike XXL” has there been a greater testament to the cathartic, even rapturous power of men baring their bodies in performance.

This deep into the franchise, most of you have probably already decided how funny you find scatological and pain-based humor. But even “Jackass” newbies would probably admit that these people seem to be having the time of their lives. There’s something wholesome about the world of “Jackass,” in which almost any annoyance or grievance can be patched over by a bout of collective hooting and hollering, sympathetic puking or plain old hugging it out.

“Jackass Forever” feels like a victory lap of sorts for Knoxville and company, who can rest their broken bones and concussed heads knowing that they have cemented their place in the pantheon of cinematic dum-dums. Their message? Pain is universal, and inevitable. All you need are kindred spirits to laugh at the futility of thinking otherwise.

R. At area theaters. Contains strong crude material and dangerous stunts, graphic nudity and coarse language throughout. 96 minutes.

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