During the late '70s and early '80s, there was something like a revolution happening in Canada with the teen comedy. Directors such as Ivan Reitman and Bob Clark were churning out coming of age fantasies obsessed with juvenile humor that created a minor subgenre boom, modest hits like Meatballs ('79) and Porky's ('81) earning sequels and becoming full-blown franchises*. Before that, former stunt man turned director Hal Needham made a set of down home action pictures that showcased the superstar he used to double for: Burt Reynolds. Car shows like Smokey and the Bandit ('77) became runaway smashes (pun intended), with their reckless daredevil antics and dusty car chases.
Action Point – the latest starring vehicle for Jackass front man-cum-leading man Johnny Knoxville – is a throwback combo of these antiquated cinematic styles, spinning a featherweight yarn about a low rent theme park owner trying to keep his run-down attraction from financially going under (thanks to the fancy competition that's moved in just thirty minutes down the road). Based on a real-life death trap that was open in Vernon, New Jersey from '78 - '96, this slobs vs. their own bodies narrative – in which the local cheap thrill maven "takes the brakes off" his place to make it more fun – is little more than a framework for Knoxville to yet again damage the human form in colorful and creative ways (a catapult that launches him into the side of a barn being this writer's personal favorite).
Only Johnny Knoxville is old and rickety now, and his former forever young face and physique are finally starting to show serious signs of wear and tear. Here is a performance artist who’s idolized fearless men of action doing their damndest to wow audiences with death-defying feats his whole life (just look to his Knievel documentary Being Evel for concrete proof of this adoration). Yet the newfound trepidation he and the rest of the Jackass posse exhibited during the third film in that franchise has given way to a limited range of self-harm. Knoxville mostly flings himself off rides or gets hit in the head or crotch over and over, while a new group of misfits watch and laugh. After each wince-inducing gag, director Tim Kirkby's camera lingers as Knoxville is almost always slow to get up, coughing and giggling yet clearly in great pain.
Human mortality adds a layer of undeniable (not to mention unexpected) sadness to Action Point, as the lines on Knoxville's face (which might be more defined than the old man make up he wears during the movie’s "story time" framing device) are just as pronounced as the creakiness in his gait. There's also a lingering metatext to his character's narrative, as the huckster’s attempt to up the fun quotient isn't just inspired by economic need, but also the desire to keep his blood and surrogate families together. It's as if Knoxville is acknowledging the fact that the only Jackass crew member still by his side (due to grudges, death and depression) is Chris Pontius (playing his fictional best bud), and that Action Point is an effort to maintain the reckless, punk spirit they kindled together, even in the face of Jackass’ apparent disbandment.
Like the aforementioned Canadian comedies and silly Needham stunt shows, Action Point is short, stupid, occasionally funny, filled with wince-inducing practical gags, catchy country music, and is generally pleasant and likable. Plus, there’s a live bear that guzzles Schlitz the whole movie. We often joke about Tom Cruise being the movie star most likely to get himself killed onscreen trying to pull off some insane act (likely in one of his Mission: Impossible sequels), but Knoxville may very well beat him to the task. While that's a somewhat morbid thought, it suddenly loses a touch of grotesquery once you consider the fact that this is almost certainly the way Johnny would want to go. Hopefully, it's just in service of a slightly better motion picture than Action Point.
*For those interested in slightly deeper Canux sex comedy cuts, try Pinball Summer ('80) or Screwballs ('83).
Action Point is currently in theaters.