“What a Day! We Ran Out of Beer, Corn Dogs and Toilet Paper. In That Order.” – D.C. Carver
From Johnny Knoxville, co-creator of Jackass, Action Point, released in 2018, is loosely inspired by the now-defunct Action Park in Vernon, New Jersey, which first opened in 1979. The independently-funded theme park was considered by many to be one of the most dangerous entertainment destinations in the United States, as at least six people were known to have died as a result of incidents that occurred within the park. Founder and CEO Gene Mulvihill’s philosophy was that guests should be in control of their experience, envisioning a theme park where the guests controlled how fast/high they went, which is exactly what he created with Action Park. Consequently, the park closed in 1996 and later reopened under new ownership as Mountain Creek in order to disassociate itself from the former park’s reputation. Yet, in spite of all this fascinating history, Action Point is a rather poor attempt at adapting one of the world’s most dangerous theme parks for the silver screen, combing lowbrow humour with a flavourless (and largely invented) narrative to minimal effect.
Plot Summary: A low-rent yet moderately successful theme park with an assortment of hazardous attractions, Action Point was the crackpot dream of its owner and operator, D.C. Carver, who always believed that children enjoying themselves was more important than anything else. But, just as D.C.’s estranged teenage daughter comes to visit, a massive corporate theme park opens nearby, jeopardising the future of Action Point…
Action Park, the theme park that inspired Action Point, is actually the subject of multiple documentaries, including 2013’s The Most Insane Amusement Park Ever, and 2020’s Class Action Park, both of which go deep into the construction and history of the troubled entertainment destination. So, with two documentaries detailing the park along with a plethora of YouTube videos, it’s easy to see why the filmmakers behind Action Point thought the story would make for an excellent comedic biopic of Mulvihill. However, therein lies the first issue with the film; Action Point isn’t truthfully a biopic as its narrative is primarily fictional, with names of characters/locations getting changed to further fit this approach. To make things worse, director Tim Kirkby (The C World, (Future) Cult Classic, Last Looks) repeatedly has trouble applying conventional story structure to the kind of reckless Jackass-esque stunts that populate the film, which only worked previously, thanks to their short-snippet, home-made allure.
While he may be looked down upon for his history as a daredevil who made his career off of getting hit in the crotch, many seem to forget that Johnny Knoxville is actually a competent actor, able to convey the emotion and empathy required for a role such as this. And although you never forget that you are watching Knoxville merely portray a character, he does a serviceable job of portraying D.C. Carver. Alternatively, the supporting cast’s performances are fairly inconsistent, as Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Chris Pontius and Dan Bakkedahl are sometimes bland and sometimes overly eccentric. Moreover, Action Point tries to integrate a subplot alongside the primary storyline around D.C.’s cracks at connecting with his fourteen-year-old daughter, yet this subplot seems like nothing but a saccharine afterthought on behalf of the screenwriter.
Attempting to match the hand-built qualities of Action Park, the large-scale set pieces throughout Action Point are suitably outlandish and precarious. The film even goes so far as to include the Cannonball Loop waterslide, one of the most notorious attractions of the original park. That attention to detail does not persist in every aspect of the film, however, as whilst Action Park was surrounded by trees and foliage, Action Point’s iteration of the disreputable theme park is simply an expansive patch of dirt, which feels cheap and artificial in comparison. Similarly, the cinematography by Michael Snyman is relatively dull, only retaining a handful of visually interesting shots.
Barely noticeable for the majority of the runtime, the original score by Deke Dickerson, Andrew Feltenstein and John Nau is flat and easily forgettable. Luckily, the film redeems its uninspiring score through its use of well-known punk-rock songs like Janie Jones and If the Kids Are Untied, which count towards the chaotic, out-of-control disposition of the park and its innumerable youthful guests.
As previously mentioned, despite appearing both risky and painful, all of the stunts throughout Action Point feel tremendously out of place, as the story frequently grinds to a halt to make way for a scene of a character getting injured. In fact, Johnny Knoxville claims to have sustained more injuries in this flick than in any other film of his career. These injuries included four concussions, a broken hand, a damaged meniscus, a lost orbital lamina, whiplash, stitches and even the loss of some of his teeth.
In summary, while Action Point was never going to be anything more than masochistic sequences built atop a flimsy plot, eighty-five minutes of Knoxville and his co-stars abusing themselves across a shoddy recreation of one of the most unsafe theme parks in the United States quickly becomes tiresome. And whilst ideas like an alcoholic bear may get a smile out of some, this box office flop just doesn’t hold a candle to the glory days of Jackass, whether that be the cinematic trilogy or the original television series. As such, I would advise just watching Jackass or any of the documentaries depicting the true story of Action Park over Action Point, as they are far more entertaining. Rating: 4/10.