Johnny Knoxville’s Gag-Filled ‘Action Point’ Loses Its Story in the Antics

Action Point” brings Johnny Knoxville back to his home turf of bodily pain and demented laughter. It also wants to be a heartfelt family film, and a middle finger aimed at conformity, all at once. Because Knoxville’s original shtick was the madness of random stunts in “Jackass,” he has some moments in this movie that are genuinely funny when set apart from the story. Yet they are few and far between. When someone isn’t getting kicked in the groin or flying off a ramp, you shrug and wonder what the point is. You get the lingering suspicion this film was not designed to be watched in a sober state.

The “plot” is simple enough. An aged D.C. (Knoxville) spends the day with his granddaughter telling her the story of how years ago (the 1980s we presume), he used to run a rural theme park named Action Point. It was a dump where local, bored kids and some adults could go on cheap rides and other distractions with little to no speed limits, or even breaks. At the time D.C. was living with a fellow loon played by “Jackass” regular Chris Pontius. One summer D.C.’s daughter Boogie (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) comes to visit just as a corporate big shot moves in with a fancy new park, and an eye aimed at Action Point’s land. D.C. has to juggle fatherhood, his rivals and his own physical well-being.

That pretty much sums up the entire premise of “Action Point.” The plot is nothing but an excuse for the gags, so much so that it feels completely unnecessary. The movie lacks the wildness and insane upfront attitude of the “Jackass” movies, which were not great cinema, but they never pretended to be anything other than pure mayhem. Maybe it’s because Knoxville at 47 can’t do the kind of stunts he pulled off back in the day, but the film feels so subdued that the gags fall flat for the most part. There are some funny flourishes here and there, like an alcoholic bear always searching an open bottle, or Knoxville getting knocked down by a firehose stream, there’s at least one bad but funny shot of a kid kicking a mascot in the nether regions. Chris Pontius actually has some of the better moments because unlike Knoxville, he doesn’t always need to depend on the stunts, he can simply be funny in a stoner comedy way (longtime fans will howl at one scene where he skips while on his way to carry out a task). His best scene involves breaking into a news station only to get trapped when an anchorman and weather lady decide to barge in ready to copulate.

But what diminishes the comedy in “Action Point” is that’s missing, well, a point. There isn’t a clear goal here in terms of what it wants to do. It doesn’t have enough anarchy to simply be a chaotic laughing fest, and its narrative is woefully underdeveloped. Aside from Pontius and Boogie, the other side characters are never interesting or even present enough to make us care. Everyone at the park is simply a tool for smashing something, running around and looking drunk. The bad guys have little presence because we never even go inside their own, lavish park. We never get to actually see the threat to Action Point. The main bad guy, Knoblach (Dan Bakkedahl), barely has any lines and is just there to look mean in a suit and spew some mean jokes at D.C. and his peers. The key weakness of the story however, is that we don’t get much of a good reason to root for D.C. and the park. The place is an obvious asylum where the rides themselves are dangerous hazards (in one scene D.C. fixes a broken water slide with duck tape). What kind of “freedom” the movie is promoting is a bit hard to grasp, unless it’s the freedom to break your neck. Misfits in movies become heroes because they defy a stuffy, conservative order. What the philosophy of this movie is becomes a big puzzle. In his voiceover D.C. complains about kids today being so sensitive they go “to the media” whenever they get hurt, but it’s hard to justify responding to conformity by tackling a drunken bear (as funny as it can be on screen).

This movie is not a success, but it should be noted that Eleanor Worthington-Cox’s Boogie is very likeable with her love for The Clash and the friendly, buddy chemistry she has with Knoxville. They both just seem to belong together in another movie. Another funny but underdeveloped angle is the character of Travis (Matthew Peterson), who is Knoblach’s buffed, jock son who snoops around the park and bullies Boogie and the other kids who hang out there. But a push or fall and Travis winces in pain and scuttles off. He has the look of a classic 80s high school jock, but with a humorous touch you wish there was more of. As for Knoxville, the mad laugh and crazy eyes are there, but he wanders the screen like a shadow of his former self.

“Action Point” has a few good laughs in search of a better premise. This is the kind of humor that never aspires to be anything more than antics, but precisely because of that it should throw caution to the wind. It wants to make fun of conformity without realizing it became just what it attacks.

Action Point” releases June 1 in theaters nationwide.