Nitro Circus (M) - 2.5 stars
Travis Pastrana, Jim DeChamp, Tommy Passemante, Jolene Van Vugt
DIRECTORS: GREGG GODFREY, JEREMY RAWLE
REVIEW: SHANNON HARVEY
You'll like this if you liked Jackass, Trailer Park Boys.
Two parts courage, one part athleticism and 10 parts stupidity drive the daredevil nut-jobs in Nitro Circus, a raw, visceral and utterly insane stunt doc-com in the mode of Evel Knievel meets Jackass.
In the hair-raising introductory sequence, for instance, motorcycles and monster trucks leap in unison across dirt gorges.
There are leaps across chasms in semi trucks and speedboats. There are jumps from the roof of one 63-storey Panama City skyscraper to another. There are attempts to best each another for the world-record number of car-crash rolls. That one goes horribly wrong for Jim DeChamp, who is taken to hospital with “serious but undisclosed injuries”.
I guess too much reality can spoil the illusion of consequence-free recklessness in Gregg Godfrey’s and Jeremy Rawle’s film, which is shot in 3-D and follows the travelling Nitro Circus troupe (who first appeared on MTV) as they try to out-Jackass Jackass.
This group of young, bruised and often broken men/boys are led by daredevil Travis Pastrana, and the sheer enthusiasm of these often shirtless idiots — including sole female member Jolene Van Vugt and wheelchair-bound Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham — is infectious.
Even when their various stabs at to-camera humour falls as flat as some of their Wily E. Coyote-style stunts.
Most stunts are elaborate leaps, jumps and tricks aboard motorcycles, ATVs, school buses and even retrofitted Big Wheel-style trikes. In one of the loopier sequences, the lads play a game of “hole in one” where they must ride a tricycle off a ramp, dismount and drop into a hole in a huge inflatable ball. Miss, and the lads bounce off and land in a heap.
It is the kind of stunts we’ve all seen from Jackass, Wipeout and even Funniest Home Videos, only dialled up to 11 and with decidedly more danger. And while the feats of daredevil audacity may look like the dares in the Jackass movies, there are a few subtle differences.
The Jackass stunts are designed to fail, and that’s what makes them funny. We laugh at their epic accidents and bum-skidding burns. It’s the theatre of pain, and it actually follows a small but long tradition of getting a laugh from getting hurt. Chaplin, Keaton, the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges were their forefathers.
Yet the stunts in Nitro Circus are all designed to succeed. And that makes them astounding, because any minor error in judgment or mechanical malfunctions on these large-scale feats have potentially deadly consequences. Just as with DeChamp. A quick search reveals he broke his back in those “undisclosed” injuries.
Yet Nitro Circus fails to out-Jackass Jackass because they seem to take it more seriously, actually using helmets and protective suits. The Jackass guys are far more gonzo by comparison, and their prankster camaraderie is even more infectious.
Even less effective is the use of a supposedly hilarious narrator to introduce the various Nitro Circus players and the clunky use of old family footage of Pastrana and co trying out bike jumps as kids.
It’s clearly designed to say that these guys were always taking risks but it just comes off as sad and emphasises the fact they have never grown beyond adolescence.
What happens when they turn 40 or 50 and can’t keep doing it? What happens when they break something for good? That’s part of the appeal for the audience, of course. It’s like watching a car accident happen, then waiting for the next one.
The climactic stunt at a Vegas casino seems both tame by comparison and sellout. After all, nothing says “devil-may-care rebel” like a Las Vegas casino show.
Nitro Circus screens until Thursday.