What if Johnny Knoxville and a couple of his buddies from the “Jackass” hurt-yourself-for-the-hell-of-it TV series were put in charge of an amusement park? Instead of safety being the owners’ primary concern, guests would be encouraged to tempt fate on notoriously risky waterslides, ziplines, and a high-speed downhill toboggan. That’s the lowbrow high concept behind the gleefully brainless “Action Point,” which was inspired by just such a death trap in Vernon, New Jersey, known as Action Park, where much fun was had (and many bones were broken) before a handful of personal injury lawsuits forced its closure in 1996.
Knoxville and his team clearly see this as the ideal stage for a fresh batch of willfully idiotic stunts — one of which was reportedly so severe that it dislodged Knoxville’s eyeball, such that it pops out of its socket whenever he sneezes — all in service of a woefully unfunny comedy that’s clearly been reverse-engineered to showcase ostensibly amusing (but not really) displays of bodily harm. The “Jackass” star plays D.C., proprietor of a mixed fun-park-cum-health-hazard in which a bunch of drunk, underage teenagers allow visitors to recklessly endanger themselves in the name of cheap thrills.
There are three things screenwriters John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky want audiences to know about this place: First, D.C. has borrowed a lot of money and now stands to lose everything — land and attractions alike — to an insufferable rival-turned-real-estate-shark named Knoblach (Dan Bakkedahl). Second, business is flagging ever since a more corporate competitor called 7 Parks opend nearby. And third, D.C. must multi-task his fight to save Action Point while hosting his 14-year-old daughter Boogie (a wooden Eleanor Worthington-Cox, whose job is apparently to laugh at all Knoxville’s antics) for the summer.
That’s all the conflict this script needs to set up a series of extravagantly painful pranks, pratfalls, and don’t-try-this-at-home physical comedy — like trying to wrangle a porcupine with one’s bare hands, or stashing acorns up Chris Pontius’ shorts and turning a squirrel loose on his nuts. The trouble is, presenting all of this mayhem within the framework of a by-the-numbers father-daughter bonding story saps the stunts of their usual appeal. Instead of being told each crazy thing Knoxville and company plan to do in advance, and then wincing in anticipation of the injuries that inevitably await, “Action Point” presents these self-inflicted “accidents” as unexpected surprises, attempting to blindside audiences with what appear to be bloopers, but are in fact carefully staged gags (as when D.C.’s employees turn a high-pressure hose on their boss, blasting him off the top of a giant slide, or when a catapult “unexpectedly” rotates at the last minute, flinging Knoxville into the side of a wooden barn).
Judging by a handful of online documentary shorts about the real Action Park, daredevil east coast teens (too young to recognize the concept of their own mortality) loved the fact that the place was so dangerous, giving them bragging rights for having survived its most treacherous rides — including two, the Cannonball Loop and Alpine Slide, that are re-created here in all their death-defying peril. Unfortunately, the movie (directed by TV comedy helmer Tim Kirkby) does little to put audiences in visitors’ shoes, depicting park guests as a bunch of cheapskates lured by the promise of free liquor.
Knoxville frames the entire story from the present, showing up in “Bad Grandpa”-style old-age makeup — which surprisingly makes him look more handsome than the haggard, hard-living 47-year-old that he is today — to reminisce about how things were in 1979, back when such places could exist without fear of being held responsible for their customers’ hospital bills (at least six people died at Action Park). “There was a little something called personal responsibility,” D.C. tells his granddaughter, embodying the worst possible example for impressionable children (no wonder the film is rated R).
D.C. is seldom seen without a can of Schlitz in his hand, while the most common joke involves a big brown bear that has been trained to pretend it’s drinking beer (a close second is a park mascot in a bear suit who sustains all kinds of abuse). Outfitted in dorky-looking vintage summer duds (tight pants and short shorts), D.C.’s employees are equally unprofessional. If anyone should happen to design “Action Point” action figures down the road, Pontius’ fishnet-clad character will come with a gnarly looking hatchet in hand at all times, while the others are more or less interchangeable.
The main character here is Action Point itself, of course, which convincingly looks as if location scouts managed to find a condemned amusement park and subsequently arranged to destroy it, when in fact, they traveled all the way to South Africa, where they constructed this rickety facsimile of the New Jersey venue from scratch (except for a vintage carousel labeled Schlittenfart, which they paid to have imported, since the name made them laugh). As with the kind of concussion-inducing rides featured in the movie, thrill-seekers ought to know what they’re in for and are strongly encouraged to proceed at their own risk.