If the disposable Johnny Knoxville prankster comedy “Action Point” (No Stars OUT OF ****) had been one-tenth as sidesplitting as its real-life counterpart: Action Park, a notoriously unsafe New Jersey-based theme park that thrived from May 1978 until September 1996, it might have been entertaining. Reportedly, Knoxville saw the 14-minute documentary short “The Most Insane Amusement Park Ever” (2013) and used it as the basis for “Action Point.” If you’ve seen the “Action Park” documentary, you can see some of the plot potential that the “Jackass” creator must have envisaged. Sadly, he failed to duplicate Action Park with his lowest common denominator treatment that lands somewhere between “Wet Hot American Summer” and “Adventureland.” Furthermore, Knoxville and five other writers, including “Beavis and Butthead’s” Mike Judge, have turned the story into a trite rivalry comedy. We’ve all seen similar rivalry comedies where independents tangle with corporate America and languish without hope. Unfortunately, Knoxville didn’t bother to embrace the riotous, risk-your-own-neck, antics of Action Park, because he was too busy conjuring up this brain-dead, paint-by-the numbers farce from the perspective of the crackpot owner rather than his cracked-up customers. Moreover, he has added a pointless framing story, so he could use up all his left-over, old codger make-up from “Bad Grandpa” (2013). Ultimately, the stunts lack the facetious juvenile delinquency of his hysterical “Jackass” monkeyshines. This didn’t keep the 47-year old actor from performing his own stunts, but they are each as undistinguished as most of this lame-brained, lackluster movie. In fact, if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve probably seen Knoxville’s best gags. His pals turn a power hose on him, and he takes a wild ride down a slide. Later, they catapult him through a barn which undoubtedly was built of balsa wood. All the gags in “Action Point” pale by comparison with inspired tom foolery of his “Jackass” movies. Worse, the word is that most of the “Action Point” stunts were simulated.
Basically, a cynical, amoral, low-lifer, D.C. (Johnny Knoxville of “Skiptrace”) owns a ramshackle amusement park, featuring dilapidated rides and slides that he uses duct tape to repair when customers put too much stress on them. Nevertheless, he maintains Action Point in sheer defiance of his latest Six Flags-style competitor 7 Parks that is doing its best to siphon off all his business. Not only is D.C. constantly dodging bankruptcy, but he must also contend with a slimy real-estate financier, Knoblach (Dan Bakkedahl of “The Heat”), who will stoop to anything to acquire his property. In a last-ditch effort to lure his customers back, D.C. decides to “take the brakes off” and throw caution to the wind. Not surprisingly, the teens who made Action Point profitable initially respond enthusiastically to D.C.’s own recklessness with their own adrenaline-laced, white-knuckled sense of irresponsibility. D.C.’s employees mimic his own devil-may-care mindset. For example, his oblivious, hatchet-toting, lifeguard Benny (Chris Pontius of “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle”) rarely keeps his eyes peeled for foundering swimmers and prefers to “let God sort’em out.” At one point, D.C. stuffs acorns up Benny’s cutoffs so customers can watch a squirrel climb into Benny’s crotch. Clearly, where was the ASPCA when all this happened?
Mind you, we would know nothing about any of this nonsense had D.C.’s divorced, grown-up daughter, Boogie (Susan Yeagley of “Coyote Ugly”), not arranged for him to spend quality time babysitting his granddaughter who has broken her leg and is stuck at home. Peepaw, as D.C. is referred to by his daughter, reminisces with his granddaughter about his glory days when getting sued for unsafe conditions was the least of his concerns. Eventually, Knoblach enlists the help of his own son to expose the absence of safety regulations at D.C.’s park. Even if it doesn’t succeed as a comedy, “Action Point” succeeds as product placement. Johnny Knoxville is shown in virtually all the flashbacks with a Schlitz beer stuck in his hand. The real scene-stealer is a huge bear that drains six-packs of beer in a single gulp as if they were bottles of honey. Obviously, with all its negligent behavior, not limited entirely to cigarettes and alcohol, “Action Point” wound up with an R-rating. The problem with “Action Point” is the comedy isn’t very funny, and there is nothing contagious about its best scenes which are few and far between. “Action Point” represents British television director Tim Kirkby’s first film assignment in 15 years; primarily, he specializes in made-for-television movies and episodic television shows. Perhaps the greatest feat that Kirkby accomplishes with “Action Point” is paring this contrived pabulum down to a mere 84 minutes. The six scenarists rarely provide either a witty joke or priceless slapstick to keep us attentive, so we’re left watching Knoxville act either his own age or an old timer’s age. You know you’re in trouble when Johnny Knoxville’s lets his thespian skills upstage his physical shtick.
Some comedies hated and reviled during their initial release have become genuine classics. Nobody liked Buster Keaton when he made “The General” (1926), but now some have re-classified it as “the greatest comic epic of all time.” The Marx Brothers comedy “Duck Soup” (1933) opened to rotten reviews, enough so that Paramount sent the quartet packing to M-G-M. Now, critics hail “Duck Soup” as the best Marx Brothers comedy. Times change, and people change. One generation’s garbage is another’s treasure. Happily, this probably won’t apply to “Action Point.” Anybody can see why his “Jackass” alums, like Steve-O, didn’t gang up with him for this lukewarm misfire lensed on location in South Africa to hold the budget down. This egregious comedy is so ghastly, with such lowest common denominator antics, that you should be able to demand a refund. According to release publicity, Paramount shelled out about $20-million for “Action Point,” and the box office has proven dismal. Hollywood has already classified it as a bona-fide flop. Several generations from now, the connoisseurs of culture may resurrect this threadbare comedy and acclaim it as “funny.”