It may not sound like much to brag about, but there’s no denying that Johnny Knoxville is Hollywood’s reigning and undisputed champ of getting hit in the nuts. Now, the King of the Jackasses is back to defend a crown that no one has been gunning for since the passing of Curly Howard in the lightly plotted, dim-witted geek show Action Point. Clocking in at a svelte 84 minutes, it still feels about an hour too long.
As he showed in 2013’s equally disposable Bad Grandpa, Knoxville seems to have a fetishistic sweet tooth for getting dressed up in old-age drag. And that’s how we meet him at the outset of this…well, it’s hard to call it a “movie”. The arrested-development daredevil plays a frisky old coot named D.C. who’s babysitting his granddaughter and proceeds to tell her the story of the rickety redneck amusement park he used to run when her mother was about her age.
Cue the inevitable flashback, and now we’re introduced to a younger and no less irresponsible D.C. — the Schlitz-chugging proprietor of a financially-strapped patch of dirt called Action Point that features a handful of broken-down rides that all seem designed to provoke a class-action lawsuit. The waterslides are held together with duct tape, the alpine luge runs on a death-defying track made out of cement, the zip line is like an express pass to the emergency room, and a bear roams the grounds like a man-eating mascot. The staff of stoners, misfits, and reprobates (including Jackass veteran Chris Pontius) is equally sketchy, playing pranks on one another designed to inflict the highest possible amount of bodily harm. Extra points seem to be awarded for a bullseye to the balls.
There’s a kernel of a good idea here. Childhood in the ‘70s (when this movie is set) was a far more dangerous experience. There were no helmets or pads or concerns for nut allergies and EpiPens. You somehow made it through your teenage years by sheer luck. But Knoxville and Co. don’t do much with the idea.
A film like Action Point, of course, has to have a villain. After all, how else would we know that we’re supposed to root for these lovable losers? And that killjoy is a humorless land developer (played with too much restraint by Veep’s Dan Bakkedahl) who wants to close down the park. Following the same Mad Libs screenwriting program no doubt used for the film, Action Point also has to have some heart. Which comes in the form of D.C.’s teenage daughter (Maleficent’s Eleanor Worthington-Cox) who’s visiting for the summer. Somehow five people received a “story by” credit on the film.
With a brand-new Six Flags-style attraction newly opened nearby, business is flatlining. So in order to boost attendance and save the low-rent park, D.C. comes up with a plan to make the rides as dangerous as possible. No seat belts, no safety rules, no concussion protocols. Naturally, kids eat it up. At this point you’d expect the film to escalate into an orgy of giddy masochism and wincing mayhem with limbs flying every which way. But even the stunts – the whole raison d’etre of a movie like this – seem tame and staged. It cheaps out on the good stuff. And for a movie with so little going for it besides the threat of danger, there’s no excuse for Action Point to play it this safe. D+