Film reviews and more since 2009

Action Point (2018) review

Dir. Tim Kirkby

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★★

I’d like to think I’m a sophisticated moviegoer. In my mind, I’m the most sophisticated amongst even the densest theater crowd. I do my best to have an equitable balance between blockbusters and small-scale movies in any given month. I try to bring the same level of thoughtful discourse when discussing a four-star, Oscar-worthy drama as I do a loathsome romantic comedy or a potentially harmful kids movie. That’s my duty that I’ve assumed for almost ten years. By now, after having seen some of the medium’s finest works and studying a variety of international cinemas, I should have taste that would cause me to sneer at certain films. But I spent so much time as a child in front of the TV watching junk-drawer shows and movies that some habits, I’m afraid to admit, never die hard.

It’s this reason among several others I’m here to speak positively about Action Point, the new comedy from the same numbskulls that brought you two decades worth of dangerous stupidity. After reading up on the legacy of Action Park, a now closed New Jersey amusement park that was locally famous for its abundance of unsafe rides, Jackass frontman Johnny Knoxville became inspired by the potential of a movie based on the controversial attraction. Similar to his most recent effort, Bad Grandpa, Knoxville and company (including Jackass co-star Chris Pontius) recreated the thrill of the original Action Park by constructing several of the park’s memorable rides. Similar to their past ventures, they also performed the stunts the way Knoxville always demands them — authentically, without stunt-doubles, and constructed to fail miserably.

The price he paid for his decision to be his own daredevil, once again, was four concussions, including one after the staple-scene in the trailer where he slides off of a winding track, landing head first on the dirt. On top of head trauma akin to an NFL-lifer, he broke his hand and his knee in the same scene, had his teeth knocked out, and dislodged his eyeball after blowing his nose in the hospital. It might be a while before we see the 47-year-old (!) in another movie that doesn’t involve a script and a no-strings-attached speaking role.

Knoxville plays D.C. Carver, the crackpot owner of Action Point, an amusement park that predicates itself on being centered not only around its teenage demographic but on keeping fun at the forefront of their “operation.” Of course, in the mind of a prepubescent child, fun = danger, and the rides at D.C.’s park are barely functional and ran by under-trained, inebriated coworkers. The frame-story is set into motion by D.C., now an elderly man, telling his granddaughter about the days when he was the park’s center of attention and how her mom, Boogie (Eleanor Worthington Cox), helped him out. Armed with her voice of wisdom when it counts along with that of his brother, Benny (Pontius), D.C. and the ne’er-do-wells at Action Point defend their reckless brand of fun from a local real estate shark (Dan Bakkedahl), who wants the park to forfeit its rights to a nearby corporate amusement park that just opened.

Action Point is very much from the same cloth as MeatballsBeach Balls, and other brainless comedies of the 1980s. You might remember: the type that appeared ostensibly more concerned with assuring the cast was having a good time than putting the best product on the screen. Comedy director Tim Kirkby hybridizes the style of those films with a litany of stunts that resemble America’s Funniest Home Videos in tone and punchline. The stunts involve the various attractions at Action Point, such as a petting zoo featuring raccoons and porcupines and a loop-de-loop slide that suggests you’ll get stuck mid-loop, taking center-stage in any given scene. Most are showcased with Knoxville getting clobbered being the end (and desired) result.

For better or for worse, writers John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky try their best to carve a narrative out of the material and the characters, which backfires only when lame sentimentalism starts to impede on D.C.’s relationship with his daughter. Maybe this is a consequence of an aging Knoxville not wanting to be a part of a film that jam-packs four dozen stunts into one film (something no one could blame him for). He’s done his do-diligence (if he were ever required to) by giving us many hours of content involving him and his friends getting hurt, and if this is the form to which he wants to commit going forward, it’s better than no Knoxville at all, as far as I’m concerned.

The spirit Action Point possesses is one of bygone comic sensibilities, some laid to rest for good reason, and Knoxville’s clear admiration for the now-defunct park, 80s cheese, and the underdog spirit prevailing in the face of corporatism are schlocky but well-suited for his longstanding brand of tomfoolery.

NOTE: As of this writing, Action Point is available to stream on Pluto TV, free of charge.

NOTE II: Listen to my review of Action Point on my radio show, Sleepless with Steve, on WONC 89.1FM:
Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Eleanor Worthington Cox, Chris Pontius, Dan Bakkedahl, Eric Manaka, Camilla Wolfson, Leon Clingman, and Aidan Whytock. Directed by: Tim Kirkby.
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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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