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Saturday, June 02, 2018

Action Point

The only way you can really critique a movie like Action Point is by reporting how often you laughed.  I am sad to report I did not laugh once.  There's a kind of tired atmosphere to the film, when it should have been a slam dunk when you look at the premise and the talent behind it.  Johnny Knoxville, famous for his Jackass TV series and film franchise, in charge of a dangerous amusement park sounds like it should be riotous, given his expertise in dangerous and comedic stunts.  But the whole thing feels overly safe, and actually is more interested in a plot regarding a father learning to be a responsible parent to his teenage daughter, than it is in breaking the rules and getting laughs.

The film shares a similar structure to Knoxville's last movie, Bad Grandpa, which mixes live stunts with scripted sequences that give us a bare bones plot to connect the gags.  In that movie, we got some very funny "hidden camera" sequences where Knoxville in old man make up and a little boy posing as his grandson would play funny and obscene pranks on unsuspecting passers by.  It was raw, and actually a lot of fun.  In comparison, Action Point is fixated too much on the plot, and not enough on Knoxville and his cohorts practically killing themselves for the amusement of the audience.  This may be due to the fact that Knoxville is not as young as he used to be. (He's close to pushing 50 in real life.) This probably also explains why he participates in so few of the stunts, and spends most of the time on the sidelines, watching other people perform them.  It's kind of admirable that he still wants to make these movies, but you also wish he'd pass the torch to someone else by this point.

As the movie opens, Knoxville is again in old man make up, and telling his granddaughter the story of how in the late 70s, he ran the Action Point amusement park, which is loosely based on a real life water park in New Jersey called Action Park, which was notorious for how dangerous it was.  As he tells the story, we are introduced to the teenage crew that ran the park, and they're a largely interchangeable and forgettable bunch.  The only character who does manage to stand out is the hatchet-wielding lifeguard, who is believed to have escaped from a mental hospital.  He's played by one of Knoxville's Jackass alum, Chris Pontius.  Sadly, the role requires him to do more acting than what he's actually good at, which are the stunts we have come to see.  We learn that Action Point is run down and extremely dangerous.  When the water slide breaks, it's pieced back together with tape.  And Knoxville's character, named D.C., has plans to make it even more dangerous by adding an upside down loop in the middle of it.

But the actual plot concerns D.C.'s teenage daughter, Boogie (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) coming to visit for the summer, and D.C.'s attempts to keep the park open when the evil real estate magnet (Dan Bakkedahl) threatens to shut it down.  D.C. stages a number of publicity events for Action Point, which brings about record turnout from potheads and thrill-seeking teens who love the questionable safety of the thrill rides, and the petting zoo which includes a porcupine and a drunken bear.  But because D.C. is focused so much on keeping his park open, he begins to neglect his daughter, and the last half is devoted to a lot of scenes where father and daughter argue, bond, and D.C. generally tries to keep custody of Boogie, as his ex-wife is threatening to remove him as a legal guardian.  The movie obviously wants to give older audiences nostalgia about a time when kids were under much less scrutiny when it came to having fun, but it gets so bogged down in subplots that it quickly deflates.

Action Point is a missed opportunity all around.  The stunts are not as dangerous or as outrageous as we expect from Knoxville and his crew.  There's a certain flat tone to the stunts, the direction of the film, and to the performances, which makes it hard to get involved when the movie wants us to so desperately care about its plot.  It tries to recreate the vibe of comedies from the 70s and 80s that went for broke and usually got there, but there is just something curiously muted about the whole experience.  It almost feels like the cast and crew were truly afraid to cut loose and grab the potential the idea had.  You almost wish this movie had been made earlier, when Knoxville and his Jackass team were at their peak, and would be willing to go more over the edge.  It probably would have been a much more raucous and unforgettable experience for the audience.

There was a movie a while back called Adventureland that does a much better job of capturing the vibe of amusement parks in the late 70s and early 80s than this movie ever does, and it manages to tell a successful story, too.  If you want to revisit the time period and feeling that this movie tries to recreate, that's the one to watch.

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