While the question of whether the ‘Jackass’ franchise is ‘art’ remains up in the air, the third film installment may be one of those things too gruesome not to watch.[/media-credit]

The boys are back.

After 10 years, two movies and a slew of hospital trips, Johnny Knoxville and company have returned with another compilation of reckless pranks and stunts in “Jackass 3-D.”

As always, they will shock you, make you laugh and occasionally gross you out. But before getting into “Jackass 3-D,” there’s something worth mentioning. As it turns out, the guys may shock you for something you’d never expect.

The bold question: Is the “Jackass” franchise art?

Such was the question posed by Dennis Lim of the New York Times. And laugh all you want, but you may be surprised.

In one respect, the “Jackass” franchise is an art form because of what Lim describes as a “cinema of attractions,” meaning that the narrative (which we all know doesn’t exist in the “Jackass” world) takes a back seat to spectacle – it’s performance for reaction. The guys are more than willing to hurt themselves for the sake of an image – be that image of Johnny Knoxville flying off a ramp while mounted on a wave rider, or of the guys taking turns in an obstacle course riddled with tasers and cattle prods, and maybe that’s art, even if Johnny Knoxville disagrees, as he did in the New York Times story.

That may have been a small diversion from the task at hand, but it leads into another matter worth discussing in terms of the new film: 3-D. Although the latest “Jackass” film could be written off as yet another movie cashing in on the 3-D trend, and director Jeff Tremaine admitted that 3-D simply lent itself to a good name for the movie, it not only enhances the spectacle of the movie, but it also changes the rhythm of the stunts in an artistic way.

“Jackass” has always been about the stunts. However, the focus rested on two parts of a stunt: the anticipation and the aftermath. You see a t-ball setup and Steve-O’s crotch nearby, and you know what’s going to happen. In a matter of seconds it’s over, and all that’s left is a crumpled Steve-O to laugh at.

This is where “Jackass 3-D” gets interesting. Two Phantom cameras capable of shooting 1,000 frames per second – compared to the normal 24 frames per second required to capture movement at a normal speed – allows for gratuitous shots of the stunt in progress. It’s the prank in progress that has always been fleeting in the series that gets extra special attention in “Jackass 3-D.”

Bam Margera’s “Rocky” stunts exemplify this best. It’s a simple setup: Bam sneaks up behind an unsuspecting castmate, throws water on one side of their face and a punch in the other.

With the help of 3-D, we see every splash of water strike the victim’s face. We see the subtle nuances of a startled reaction, and the smile that slowly crosses Margera’s face. But most importantly for “Jackass 3-D,” we see the damage in progress – when that boxing glove collides, we see each and every equal and opposite reaction. It’s the slowly shutting eyes, the abrupt rippling of the victim’s face. The pain.

When applied to any prank, the 3-D does more than make it look cool. It transforms the prank into its own work of art that can be carefully studied.

Aside from the surprising level of artistry seen in “Jackass 3-D,” what is left for audiences is exactly what is to be expected. There’s plenty of physical harm, mindless pranks, gross bodily humor and skits that seek to test the limits of societal norms.

However, also be prepared for an amazing intro and conclusion. While both are entirely choreographed, they are given the full-blown Hollywood treatment in terms of special effects, and again, the 3-D proves stellar. And while the future of “Jackass” is uncertain (as it always has been), the credits conclude with a sentimental look back that, if the franchise does end here, ends a legacy on a sweet note.

When getting critical about a movie like “Jackass 3-D,” your efforts are a little in vain. It’s one of those movies that simply must be taken for what it is: mindless entertainment. However, if there’s one thing “Jackass 3-D” proves, even unknowingly, it’s that there really is a place for a movie like it in the world of cinema, even if it features guys stupid enough to play tether ball with a beehive while nearly naked.

3 stars out of 5.