When they came out, I mercilessly derided the Jackass movies. They were intellectually barren, bottom-of-the-barrel detritus, one mistake removed from a snuff film. But I loved them. They were terrible movies, but goddamn, they made me laugh. It was real-life Home Alone, and the joy these men got out of other people’s pain was infectious. They were piss-your-pants funny. I loved Johnny Knoxville’s Bad Grandpa even more. It was Jackass plus Borat, and while the combination of Knoxville’s fearlessness and his complete lack of shame may have put him on the sociopathic spectrum, the one-two punch of bravery and stupidity made it a hysterical film.
There’s none of that in Action Point. It’s hard to overstate what Jeff Tremaine (and Spike Jonze) brought to those earlier films, because the difference between those films and Action Point is as stark as the difference between Adam Sandler’s early Happy Madison productions and his Netflix movies. Action Point is, more than anything, excruciatingly dull. It’s badly acted and poorly plotted, but that’s not unexpected. What is unexpected is just how lifeless and uninspired it is.
Action Point is loosely based on an actual theme park called Action Park so badly designed that it was responsible for six deaths and numerous other injuries. That sounds like a great starting point for a Knoxville film, but director Tim Kirkby and writers John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky fail to find much in the way of inspiration for fun stunts. Literally, 90 percent of the stunts — and all the best ones — are in the trailer (which itself recycles the same catapult stunt twice):
There is nothing in the movie better than what’s in the trailer. Nothing. It, instead, relies on plot, which is an absurd notion for a Knoxville movie. It’s pretty bare-bones, too. Set in the late 1970s, a guy named D.C. tries to keep his dangerous amusement park open after a new, corporate theme park opens up in the same city. Dan Bakkedahl plays the villain, Knoblauch (or “Knob Lick,” as he’s called over and over and over), a banker trying to buy up the amusement park’s land. The only way D.C. can compete with the other park is by removing the rules, which I think just means that everyone can punch each other in the dick. While D.C. is trying to find ways to keep the park open, he’s also trying to maintain a bond with his daughter. Blergh.
I know that Knoxville was injured on the set of Action Point (presumably when he flew off a slide, because that stunt is in the trailer, in the movie, and in the outtakes three times!, including one in which Knoxville is being attended to by paramedics), but this stuff is wildly tame compared to the work on the Jackass films. In fact, there’s almost no reason to give Action Point an R-rating — they could have removed a couple of inconsequential scenes and gotten a PG-13 — but I think they must have thought the R-rating was its best selling point. It suggests there’s more to the movie than what’s in the trailer. There’s not, save for a Chris Pontius subplot in which he walks around in midriffs.
Action Point is pointless, which would be OK if it were funny, but it’s not. I spent most of the film waiting for the good stuff to happen, but it never arrives. It meanders from one nut punch to the next. I’ve seen better America’s Funniest Videos compilations on YouTube; at least they don’t try to graft on boring, paper-thin plots.