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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Forget "Avatar". You haven't really experienced the full glories of 3D until you've seen "Jackass 3D," the latest movie from ringleader Johnny Knoxville and his crew of stunt-crazy masochists.
Released in U.S. theaters on Friday, "Jackass 3D" once again challenges the boundaries of good taste with another series of pranks and gross-out stunts, including an overflowing Porta-Potty doing a bungee-drop with a captive Steve-O strapped to the seat.
It's a weird and wonderful twist of fate in Hollywood when the low-budget "Jackass" operation manages to go 3D before a blockbuster franchise like "Harry Potter," whose producers last week said they couldn't make a deadline to convert upcoming "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; Part 1" into 3D.
"And we didn't do a conversion -- we shot it all in real 3D," said "Jackass" co-creator and star Knoxville, "although we resisted at first. But the studio wanted it 3D. The only difference for us was that all the writing had to be funny in 2D first."
"And 3D can write jokes," director Jeff Tremaine, told reporters in a news conference with the pranksters. "We did stuff we probably wouldn't have done in just 2D."
It doesn't take much encouragement for the "Jackass" crew to attempt potentially dangerous don't-try-this-at-home stunts.
Yet Knoxville and cast regulars Bam Margera, Ryan Dunn, Steve-O, Jason "Wee Man" Acuna, Chris Pontius, Preston Lacy, Dave England and Ehren McGhehey all look remarkably healthy, despite a history of broken bones and severe bruises suffered in the service of the "Jackass" franchise.
When "Jackass: The Movie" was released back in 2002, the crew performed for the camera, elaborating on what it's like when a small alligator bites your breast's nipple or when stinging wasabi is stuffed up your nose in a sushi bar.
Predictably, teenage boys everywhere, as well as a surprising number of girls, were enthralled. Critics and many adults over 30 years-old were appalled, calling the movie disgusting, repulsive and grotesque.
"We don't pay any attention to it," Knoxville said about the criticism. "People have their opinions, and we're psyched that a lot of people do like it. We understand that people don't like it, but that's fine," he said.
In fact, Knoxville and the films' makers are laughing all the way to the bank. The first movie took in nearly $80 million at global box offices and the second, "Jackass: Number Two" (2006) topped that with around $85 million. The low budget flicks, were made for $5 million and $11 million, respectively, although millions more were spent on marketing.
And while the movies seem to be aimed at mostly to young audiences, director Magera said "Jackass 3D" can appeal to a broad group of moviegoers.
"We showed it at an old folks home -- 70-year-old ladies -- and they loved it. Then we showed it to The Bears, a gang of gay bikers, and they loved it too," he said.
When the "Jackass" group began over a decade ago as a stunt show on MTV, they were pioneers in their chosen field. But in the era of YouTube, they are seeing increasing competition in the drive to put stunts on video. Still, the troupe shrugs off the notion of competitors in their arena of silly tricks.
"It doesn't enter our minds," said Knoxville. "We're not in competition with anybody else, just ourselves."
In an industry where actors usually talk about wanting roles that stretch them, and where comedians yearn to be cast in dramatic roles, it's somewhat reassuring to learn that the "Jackass" team, who are now well into their late 30s, harbors no such ambitions.
"We don't intellectualize it," said Knoxville. "We just think of ideas to make ourselves laugh."
Ask Knoxville why they keep coming back for more punishment and he just grins. "It's just so much fun, traveling around the world with your friends and doing this. It may be scary, but then you watch the footage afterward, and everyone's laughing."
Now almost 40 and married with kids, one might think there would come a day when the crew would be too old to do more "Jackass" stuff, but Knoxville doesn't think it so.
"I'm more willing to do stunts now than when I first began the TV show," he said. "We love upsetting people."
Editing by Jill Serjeant and Bob Tourtellotte