Johnny Knoxville is a performer known for celebrating stunts, pratfalls and naughty high jinks, especially when they’re supremely silly and not particularly skillful. His latest starring role is in “Action Point,” which is essentially “Wet Hot American Summer” meets “Adventureland” by way of Knoxville’s signature franchise, “Jackass.” The film’s fictional late ‘70s theme park backdrop offers a simple narrative and setting, but the stumbles, tumbles and pranks are the true star of the show.
“Action Point” is directed by British TV veteran Tim Kirkby (“Fleabag,” “Veep”) and written by John Altschuler and Dave Krinksy (Knoxville, Mike Judge and Derek Freda have story credits too). Knoxville plays D.C., the proprietor of a ramshackle death trap of a theme park, Action Point. When competitor 7 Parks moves in, and an evil lawyer, Knoblach (Dan Bakkedahl), starts making moves to take over Action Point, D.C.’s marketing plan is to “take the brakes off.” He positions his park as the place where there are no rules, no speed limits and no safety precautions. And beer flows freely for man and beast alike.
There’s a perfunctory father-daughter subplot in which D.C. learns to be a better dad to his teenage daughter Boogie (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) — also reflected in the film’s framing device, where an elderly D.C. tells the story of Action Point to his granddaughter. But there’s no real reason for this flashback structure, except perhaps to indulge Knoxville’s bizarre penchant for truly ghastly old age makeup (as seen in the “Jackass” spinoff movie “Bad Grandpa”).
While the father-daughter relationship offers an emotional arc, it’s not exactly the point of the movie, which is a celebration of pure anarchy as the Action Point crew sees how far they can push the limits of reckless and dangerous. Stunts far outweigh laughs — there is nary a written joke in sight, and the line readings are flat at best and often forced. The 1970s production design by Jules Cook and costume design by Kate Carin is spot-on period specific, but the story of “Action Point” is about as substantive as a Schlitz.
In fact, the period setting is a way for Knoxville and the writers to indulge in the kind of anti-PC nostalgia for a more permissive time when casual racial slurs were accepted and young girls could be objectified. Toward the end of the film, D.C. even mentions the “nanny state” and “helicopter parents” in the same breath as reasons why he could never get away with Action Point today (notwithstanding that those are two totally different things). Yikes.
In that sense, “Action Point,” which Paramount Pictures did not screen for critics in advance of opening day, is a pure distillation of the ethos of the Johnny Knoxville canon. His work is a modern day embodiment of Russian literary philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the “carnivalesque” — where liberated, eccentric, taboo behavior runs free and in direct opposition to authority.
While Bakhtin imagined that representations of this radical anarchic behavior contained power for political change, in Knoxville’s world, the values are more retreatist and libertarian, showcasing a desire to escape to the woods with a chosen family of misfit friends to do whatever they want. For all of the manic anti-authoritarian energy that Knoxville and pals generate in “Action Point,” it’s not directed at anything, which renders it meaningless and leaves the film to fizzle out like a deflated balloon.
Rating: R, for crude sexual content, language, drug use, teen drinking, and brief graphic nudity
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Playing: In general release