Someone needs to tell Johnny Knoxville that there are easier ways to make a living. The Jackass auteur is back to his old death-defying, body-injuring tricks in his new ostensible comedy that (surprise) opened sans advance press screenings. Presumably intended for Jackass fans desperately in search of a plot, Action Park makes a typical episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos look sophisticated by comparison.
Actually, the stunts (if you want to call them that) featured in this film are far less anarchically dangerous than the ones for which Knoxville and his former crew are famous. One gets the feeling that the actor, now 47, is beginning to realize that he’s not as physically resilient as he used to be. Indeed, his weathered visage makes him look far older than his age; especially in comparison to, say, Tom Cruise, who manages to hold on to the sides of airplanes and still maintain his boyish looks.
Even ‘Jackass’ fans will be left unsatisfied.
Action Park, inspired by the infamously dangerous New Jersey amusement park of the same name, features Knoxville as D.C., the supposedly lovable proprietor of a seedy, rundown amusement park where safety, to put it mildly, is not a priority. Much screen time is devoted to scenes featuring hapless patrons being injured in a variety of visually unimaginative ways, with D.C. on hand to apply duct tape to gaping wounds when necessary. The story is set in those halcyon days of 1979, a period in which such things as safety regulations were apparently not yet in existence. An awkward framing device, depicting the elderly D.C. relating the tale to his young granddaughter, mainly seems an opportunity for Knoxville to recycle his Bad Grandpa makeup.
It took no less than five writers (including Mike Judge) to come up with the barely-there storyline concerning D.C.’s efforts to save his park, which is quickly losing customers to a more modern competitor that’s opened nearby. Desperate to keep his land from the clutches of a sleazy real estate developer (Dan Bakkedahl, who can play this sort of character in his sleep), D.C. and his equally witless cronies resort to a variety of dubious methods to spark business, including opening a “petting zoo” featuring, among other animals, a porcupine and alligator. One of the running gags (although it could be more accurately described as limping) involves a beer-guzzling bear that’s learned to drink from cans.
In an apparent attempt to lend pathos to the proceedings, a major plot element revolves around D.C.’s efforts to emotionally reconnect with his visiting 14-year-old daughter, Boogie (Eleanor Worthington-Cox). The main drama stems from her intense desire to see The Clash in concert, which her father promises to make happen. But since D.C. tends to screw up everything he attempts, it’s no surprise that he fails at this goal as well.
“Sometimes I get my best idea when I’m freshly concussed,” declares D.C. after one egregious mishap. The same can’t be said for Knoxville, who’s been boasting about his numerous injuries, including a particularly gruesome one involving his eye socket, during a recent publicity tour. These dubious achievements are losing whatever appeal they once had as he gets older. It’s a shame, because Knoxville has demonstrated that, given the right role, he can be a skillful and appealing actor. It’s time that he leave his Jackass days behind once and for all and find more worthwhile and safer outlets for his talents.
Production companies: Gerber Pictures, Paramount Pictures
Cast: Johnny Knoxville, Chris Pontius, Dan Bakkedahl, Matt Schulze, Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Johnny Pemberton, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Joshua Hoover, Conner McVicker, Eric Manaka
Director: Tim Kirby
Screenwriters: John Altschuler, Dave Krinsky
Producers: Johnny Knoxville, Bill Gerber, Derek Freda
Executive producers: Garrett Grant, Jon Kuyper
Director of photography: Michael Snyman
Production designers: Jules Cook, Lauren Ernsdorf
Editors: Matthew Kosinski, Nicholas Monsour
Composer: Deke Dickerson, Andrew Feltenstein, John Nau
Costume designer: Kate Carin
Casting: Theo Park
Rated R, 85 minutes