While I’m a frequently fervent detractor when it comes to nostalgia cinema, I’m not entirely immune to its allure. So as someone who grew up on Jackass and who found Bad Grandpa passably amusing, I screened the Johnny Knoxville vehicle Action Point with hopes tempered if not entirely dashed. This proved prudent, as any loftier expectations would have resulted in complete and utter disappointment. Inexplicably and unnecessarily grafting a plot onto 84 minutes of Jackassery, Action Point proves definitively that I’m not alone in softening with age — and that might be the kindest thing I can say about it.
It’s not that Action Point is a terrible film — it certainly has a few moments of the unbridled, self-destructive id that distinguished Knoxville’s earlier work — but it lacks the anarchic edge that made its star a household name. While Knoxville can still take egregious physical abuse with the same aplomb he displayed 20 years ago, there’s something missing here. Maybe it’s the retinue of drugged-out thrillseekers he formerly surrounded himself with, or maybe it’s the fact that disposable teenagers get legitimately injured for a few YouTube clicks on a daily basis without becoming wealthy celebrities. Regardless, Action Point feels like a film whose time may have passed.
And that’s largely the point here, as the film seems hellbent on reminding us of a “simpler” time, before the advent of helicopter parents and personal injury lawsuits. The narrative follows DC (Knoxville), the alcoholic owner of a dilapidated, late-’70s era California amusement park full of boozing kids and death-trap attractions. Based on the true story of New Jersey’s infamous Action Park, the story seems to be little more than an excuse to string together sequences of Knoxville being battered in new and interesting ways. And that’s as it should be, at least until its saccharine daddy-daughter bonding themes get in the way of the fun.
By bookending the period setting with a more sedate contemporary framing device, in which Knoxville dons old-age makeup (again) to recount the legend of Action Park to his granddaughter, Action Point is clearly referencing its star’s freewheeling late-’90s heyday. And while I’m sympathetic to the film’s conceit, its difficult to look on its ideas of personal accountability and independence as anything more than middle-aged navel-gazing, a solipsistic exercise in barstool mythologizing. Given a list of writers including Mike Judge and frequent collaborators John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, one could be forgiven for expecting something more of the screenplay.
Still, it’s not all bad news. Action Point’s third act delivers on the chaotic promise of its premise, descending into a bacchanal of orgiastic destruction that at least harkens back to the Jackass days, if never truly reliving them. Veteran TV director Tim Kirkby’s failure doesn’t appear to have been behind the camera so much as in the editing bay, as he holds some shots too long and cuts others when the aftermath would have been of comedic benefit.
Ultimately, Action Point is a film that’s too slight to be of consequence, too safe to be of interest and too uneven to warrant a cult following. If Knoxville’s best days are indeed behind him, one can’t fault him for waxing rhapsodic about a past that felt freer and less complicated — even if that past may never really have existed. Rated R for crude sexual content, language, drug use, teen drinking, and brief graphic nudity.
Now Playing at Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville.