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Johnny Knoxville puts ‘Jackass’ behind him

The former MTV personality co-stars in the action drama ‘Walking Tall’ with The Rock.
/ Source: Reuters

When you are known as a career jackass, there is no place to go but up, professionally speaking. Actor Johnny Knoxville knows that all too well.

Knoxville, 33, former host of MTV stunt show “Jackass,” stars in action movie “Walking Tall” which debuts nationwide Friday, marking one of his first major efforts at reshaping his career from one-time, real-life human barbecue to respected actor.

“I’ve kind of dedicated myself to film, you know. Jackass is done. I’m proud of Jackass,” he told Reuters. “(But) there’s no sense in repeating myself.”

“Jackass” was a show in which Knoxville and its other stars performed stupid stunts, often failing, which only made audiences laugh more. Knoxville called it quits in 2001, ending the program’s original run after two seasons.

The show spurred controversy and several lawsuits when kids copied stunts and hurt themselves. In one episode, Knoxville donned a fire-resistant suit covered with steaks and lay on a barbecue grill — really smart — hence the name “Jackass.”

MTV and sister company Paramount Pictures made 2002’s “Jackass: The Movie.” It debuted at No. 1 at domestic box offices with $22.7 million in ticket sales and earned a healthy $64.3 million overall. But Knoxville had had enough.

He may be a career jackass, but he is no dummy.

With his early film work, he is taking a slow and steady approach to acting, starting with small roles in big movies like “Men in Black II.” He cut his teeth on a leading part in independent film, “Grand Theft Parsons”.

In “Walking Tall,” he has a starring role but one that is well within his comedic capabilities.

“I kind of got famous, then started acting. So, I’ve really moved slow on purpose because I don’t want to handle too much, too soon,” Knoxville said.

Playing for laughsIn “Walking Tall,” he plays a down-on-his-luck loser named Ray who is redeemed when his high school buddy, Chris Vaughn, returns to their hometown in the rural Pacific Northwest. Chris is played by professional wrestler turned actor, The Rock.

Chris has finished a tour of duty as a member of the U.S. Army Special Forces and returned to a town corrupted by money, sex and drugs. The old lumber mill has been shut down and a tawdry casino has opened in its place.

When Chris sees his home has turned into a den of sin, he sets out to bust up the bad guys. He gets himself elected sheriff, hires Ray as his deputy and together they turn the town around — after many, many fights.

As Ray, Knoxville uses his comedic talent to provide some laughter amid the gunfire and head-bashing.

“It has a lot of physicality to it, which I’m used to, and I get to be the comedic relief in Rock’s film,” he said. “I get to score in a film where there’s no pressure on me.”

In its review, show business newspaper Daily Variety says Knoxville plays his role “with such comic panache, you wish he’d been given more to do.”

The positive note is a far cry from the reception he received for “Grand Theft Parsons,” in which Knoxville starred as Phil Kaufman, a friend of deceased music star Graham Parsons who steals his body to cremate it out of respect for old pact between the two.

Knoxville said he has no regrets about “Parsons” because he was able to work with people he respects. He said there was too little time to do justice to the role, but said “I’m not trying to run or hide from it.”

Next up are two comedies. “A Dirty Shame” by art-house director John Waters about a battle for control of a section of Baltimore waged by sexual deviants, and “The Ringer,” a comedy from the Farrelly brothers, makers of “There’s Something About Mary.”