Cinema Dispatch: Action Point

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Action Point and all the images you see in this review are owned by Paramount Pictures

Directed by Tim Kirkby

Johnny Knoxville doesn’t have what you’d call a STERLING FILMOGRAPHY with his most successful films being pseudo-documentary on shoe string budgets, but then again said movies are some serious box office smashes with the four Jackass movies (one through three and the offshoot Bad Grandpa) making  totaling over three hundred and fifty MILLION dollars!  Hell, despite the guy getting pretty much ZERO credit as a legitimate actor, he’s managed to find his way in some seriously high grossing blockbusters including Men in Black 2, the first reboot Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, and even that crappy Dukes of Hazzard movie which raked in eighty freaking million; not to mention Skiptrace which he did with Jackie Chan that made a boat load in China!  I’ve always had a soft spot for the guy as a legitimate actor which may be due to my fascination with A Dirty Shame as well as the fact that I seem to be the ONLY person on the planet who sincerely likes Daltry Calhoun.  It also helps that I’ve never seen The Ringer which would probably put an indelible stain on my inexplicable appreciation for the guy because even in 2005 that seemed like a really bad call.  So much in fact that aside FROM the Jackass films, this is first film with a wide US release that he’s headlined since then (not gonna count the voice he did in the first TMNT movie) and it seems like even the studio is aware of how untested this guy is when he’s the face of something that requires a script and direction rather than a bunch of nut shots and Tasers because of how little marketing this thing got in the lead up to its release.  Does this manage to be a diamond in the rough that will finally launch Johnny Knoxville’s film career, or is this another failed start that will eventually lead to him making another Bad Grandpa movie that will in all honestly probably net him another hundred million dollars?  Let’s find out!!

Deshawn “DC” Crious (Phillip “Johnny Knoxville” Clapp) is the owner and operator of the absurdly unsafe and therefore absurdly fun amusement park known as Action Point, or at least Mr. DC WAS back in the seventies when things like “safety” and “regulations” were for pansies while breaking your arm was fixed with a fist full of mud and a forty of garbage beer!  It’s not the seventies anymore though as we see DC somehow managed to survive not only that decade but Regan, Y2K, and Bush Jr (SPOILER ALERT!) as he’s telling his granddaughter all about the great times he had running that place and the one summer her mother (Susan Yeagley as an adult and Eleanor Worthington-Cox as a teen) came to stay with him.  Yes, they’ll never forget that summer where they had stiff competition move nearby that was syphoning off most of their attendance while also being supported by local douchebag Mr. Knoblach (Dan Bakkedahl), but that only motivated them to get even MORE wild with the rides and skirt even MORE laws in the process!  Truly an idyllic time of their lives spent with good friends like Uncle Benny (Christ Pontius) and the rag tag group of teenage rascals who helped DC run the place (Bridgette Lundy-Paine, Johnny Pemberton, Conner McViker, Eric Manaka, and a few others who don’t have extensive IMDb credits).  Can DC do enough scheming to save the park from the greedy corporate fat cats?  Will this long protracted battle against common sense and sensible safety protocols get in the way of DC being a good father to Boogie?  Did you know that Johnny Knoxville’s eye almost popped out of his head during the filming of this!?  Seriously, what more does he have to do to prove himself to you people!?

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“ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!?”     “Eh.  I’ve seen better.”

Is this a good movie?  Kinda?  I guess?  I mean I wouldn’t considering this to be BAD by any stretch, but it feels… amateurish.  There’s a legitimate tale of old school Americana buried within this thing, but it’s obscured with gross out humor, an astoundingly choppy editing job, and a bit too much of an axe to grind.  It’s pretty much a mess of a movie from top to bottom, and while movies like Life of the Party can still make the most of something like that, this film is disappointingly not living up to its full potential and is seriously held back by these issues.  I still think Johnny Knoxville is seriously underrated as an actor, and there is a lot that shines about this movie, but the word of the day is DISAPPOINTMENT.  To be fair, I’m probably one of say a dozen people who COULD actually be disappointed by this (the other fifteen people who knew this movie existed probably thought it was going to be terrible) so I guess that means you might find it’s mediocrity to be a pleasant surprise!

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Now THAT’S how you do a nut shot!  Thanks for taking one for the team, Mr. Bear!

Let’s play a game of WHAT I LIKE and HOW THEY SCREWED IT UP, shall we!?  I LIKED the framing device a whole lot as it provides a bit of context for its message and does a great job of making all the events of the movie feel that much more nostalgic, but they SCREW IT UP by forgetting about it for long stretches and by having his granddaughter not really an interesting character in her own right.  She’s just kind of there listening to the story when it would have been nice to have a bit more back and forth or even disagreements between them; especially as a counterbalance to the messaging here which we’ll get to soon enough.  I liked the relationship he has with his daughter, but the film does a poor job of weaving it into the story about the park itself and the two end up feeling like separate movies we keep going back and forth on.   Johnny Knoxville proves once again that he’s a surprisingly strong actor when he’s given the chance to shine, but the film is more interested in throwing gags at the wall to see what sticks rather than take advantage of his talents for more than one or two scenes.  It’s over and over again with this movie where they’ll either have an interesting plot point that we immediately cut from to do some more gags or it manages to do a pretty solid gag but then it keeps going on and on for increasingly diminishing returns.  It’s got a DECENT hit rate as far as the jokes go which is more than can be said about a lot of films, but it all feels too safe which is ironic considering how hurt many of the people in this film probably got while making it.  We know that Johnny Knoxville can take a bump and that he can make it funny, but I’m pretty much the only one who knows he can also act so this would have been a great chance to show that instead of just falling back on the same old same old.

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Boy is HE gonna feel that in an eight of a second!

There’s more to this story than just a few missed opportunities for father/daughter bonding however, and this is where MOST of my disappointment comes from.  The film was originally based on an actual theme park called Action Park which was infamous for shoddy rides, lax rules, and causing several injuries as well as at least six deaths.  For reasons that we don’t fully know yet (hopefully the answer is TASTE), the movie eventually distanced itself from the specific connections to that park even though several of its iconic rides are still in there; including the water slide with a loop-de-loop.  Why is this important?  Well, it’s kind of indicative of the rather tone oblivious nature of the film due to how blinded it is by nostalgia.  Action Point resembles Action Park in some ways, but the version we see in this film is an utter fantasy that’s still being treated and frame like some great bastion of THE GOOD OL’ DAYS wrongfully ripped away from us due to the ceaseless march of modernity.  Action Park was NOT run by one wacky dude and a grab bag of teenage losers; it was an offshoot of another theme park that was run by very unethical business men who wore suits and weren’t making the rides themselves.  Sure, when it comes to adaptation you need to reduce things down to its core elements so what were presumably a series of incompetent managers and poorly trained staff are turned into a rat pack of misfits, but even with that this movie has on some seriously rose tinted glasses.  No one ACTUALLY gets hurt in this movie enough to go to the hospital.  No one DIES in the park period.  The ONE TIME they get in trouble for an injury is when someone fakes it and that is absolutely NOT what happened at Action Park; nor is it ever really the case when someone sues an amusement park when they get seriously hurt.  It’s kind of fascinating to watch in the same way that The Disaster Artist was so head over heels in love with the story of Tommy Wiesau, but in here it just lacks a real clear sense of purpose.  Things were better in the old days is about all it has, but other than snide remarks about Helicopter Moms and how kids don’t know how to have fun these days, it’s all just toothless whining.  Had they ACTUALLY tried to portray Action Point as a place that had legitimate problems (instead of just wacky ones) and maybe even extended that theme to how we look kindly on the past while scoffing at the present, we might have had something great here.  Heck, the framing device pretty much writes itself for that kind of story where DC is reminiscing about the old days and the park he had, but in reality the park was a death trap, he wasn’t the best father out there, and in all honesty he should have been shut down pretty much immediately.  You can see something approaching that just on the edges of the script, but then we get jokes about dogs humping and people falling on their face which reminds us what this movie ACTUALLY is.

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“I FELL ON MY BOOM-BOOM!!”

There are other issues as well that aren’t so much INTERESTING are they just… well, bad.  Going along with the THINGS WERE BETTER IN MY DAY theme here, this is also a very white movie in a way that feels at least somewhat tone oblivious.  For one thing, the ACTUAL Action Park appealed primarily to the urban working poor who in that area which were mostly Spanish and Polish immigrants (which was actually something else that made Action Point a death trap as very few employees could speak Spanish or Polish to give proper safety instructions at the start of rides), and this is a problem because the movie makes a point of this park being for those people… but they never show up.  Whether it’s intentional or not, it’s a very clear sign of erasure where Working Class is basically interpreted to mean White Trash and so a majority of the attendants as well as the actual cast is disproportionally white.  Oh wait!  There is ONE person of color in the movie… and it’s a stereotypical and EXTREMELY non-threatening black nerd who’s about as over the top as Steve Urkel.  See, this is what happens when you pine for nostalgia to an unhealthy degree; you start replacing what things were ACTUALLY like back then and reimagine it in your own safe image; again, a VERY clear missed opportunity for this to be ABOUT nostalgia instead of just indulging in it.  Also, while I LOVE the guy in Jackass… Chris Pontius is just not very good in here.  Granted, he’s not given much to do other than smile and fall down, but he doesn’t have the charisma of Johnny Knoxville and just looks inept whenever they share the screen.

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“So when do I get naked?”     “Not that kind of movie, Chris.”     “Wait what?  Was that like… in the contract?”

Look, this isn’t a particularly good movie and I’d easily recommend Cock Blockers and Life of the Party over this one, but it does have its moments and I did find it interesting to think about even if it didn’t work so well in its execution.  I still hold out hope that Johnny Knoxville will find his big movie that’ll show all of you what I see in him, though at this point he needs to find it MUCH sooner than later.  Honestly I’m surprised the guy hasn’t already gone the Jim Varney route and made an Earnest like character to try and get steady work off of because I feel that would be a pretty good route for him to take, and he’d certainly be a better alternative than Larry the freaking Cable Guy.  Also, Richard Linklater?  If you’re reading this (which I’m CERTAIN you are), maybe toss him a bone and give him a part in one of your movies!  Call me foolish if you want, but he seems like a natural fit for your sensibilities!  Heck, I might have actually gone to see Boyhood if he was the titular boy!

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