Falling somewhere between the X Games and Jackass on the Knievel Scale of Senseless Self-Endangerment, the crew known as Nitro Circus offers more physical and technical prowess than Johnny Knoxville‘s crew without stooping to anything so disciplined it might accidentally be called a sport. Nitro Circus, the gang’s first big-screen outing after years of web and TV videos, benefits enough from the big screen to attract ticketbuyers who’ve long watched their antics for free, and might even expand the fanbase if marketers can get the word out.
Introducing the band of death-defying buddies, an intentionally square-sounding narrator highlights their skills (cycling, hot-rodding, comical obesity) and alludes to misspent youths before noting that when the group finally pitched an official movie, their plans were so uninsurable that “Hollywood crapped its pants. Pussies.”
Indeed, what makes it to the screen here is sometimes almost unbelievably dangerous. In the most extreme stunt, they build a ramp on the roof of one residential high-rise and, without any safety gear, jump tricycles across the gap to its twin building many yards away. (This was shot in Panama City, where Nitro says it can get away with things that would be illegal here.)
That’s a nail-biter, but perhaps instant death is more appealing than the likely outcomes of other stunts, like a gag involving hydroplaning Motocross cycles across a swimming pool — where heights aren’t a factor but speed is such that being off by a few inches could mean permanent paralysis. Amazingly, only one of the many shoddily-staged stunts we witness ends in a trip to the hospital. (It’s a deliberate attempt to wreck a stars-and-stripes-painted Ford Mustang in the most outrageous way possible.)
Throughout, this varied group of daredevils (one of whom is a woman) jokes with nervous machismo about the stupidity of their hobby. The banter isn’t as funny as it might be, but it would be silly to expect much wit from brains that are so regularly bashed around. A bit more humor and perspective comes from interviews with other extreme athletes and celebrity fans.
The movie makes satisfying use of slow-motion replay, multiple angles, and (to a lesser extent) 3D. The audaciousness of the set pieces would impress on a computer screen, but definitely benefits from cinematic scale. That’s especially true of the long opening choreography, where comically oversized monster trucks careen through a dirt track while dozens of perfectly-timed motorcycles leap and flip above them, all (as is said to be the case throughout) without the augmentation of visual effects.
Production Companies: Godfrey Entertainment, Red Bull Media House
Directors: Gregg Godfrey, Jeremy Rawle
Screenwriters: Gregg Godfrey, Jeremy Rawle, Travis Pastrana
Producers: Gregg Godfrey, Jeremy Rawle, Dave Hunter
Executive producers: Bill Gerber, David Brooks, Jared Knight
Director of photography: Donny Anderson
Music: Paul Phillips
Editor: Seth Torok
PG-13, 91 minutes.