Class Action Park Aug 29, 2020 13:10:07 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Aug 29, 2020 13:10:07 GMT -5
Class Action Park (2020)
Directed by: Seth Porges and Chris Charles Scott III
Directed by: Seth Porges and Chris Charles Scott III
A crowded wave pool was a typical scene at New Jersey's very own Action Park.
Class Action Park should stand as the quintessential work on the notorious amusement park responsible for many rip-roarin' good times but also a slew of injuries and deaths. Tucked away in the plains of Vernon, New Jersey, Action Park was like a right of passage for teenagers looking for an afternoon of unregulated fun. It was a popular attraction for local kids as well as those from neighboring New York and Connecticut during the 1980s when "here for a good time, not a long time" should've been the decade's unwritten motto.
The documentary — now available to stream on HBO Max — doesn't spend 90 minutes solely discussing how ribald the park was in its inherently sloppy conceit. Much like real life, it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Filmmakers Seth Porges and Chris Charles Scott III do not hesitate in addressing the (mostly young) souls who wound up meeting their fate one way or another at the park. It's one thing to have a litany of talking heads reminisce about their personal experiences at the park, but it's another to address the contemptible proprietor and the appalling lack of safety protocol that would never, ever be allowed to persist in today's climate — for good reason.
Class Action Park works as both a trip down memory lane and a painful reminder of the reality that people did indeed die at the amusement park. Even in people's fuzzy, nostalgic memories, both of those thoughts can and should coexist.
The salad days of the park are recalled by several former employees and noteworthy celebrities such as Chris Gethard (the documentary's wittiest voice) and Alison Becker, who interject personal accounts of their day-trips to Action Park. Much of the first hour is spent with former "security directors" and ride supervisors explaining famous attractions like the Alpine Slide, the Colorado River Ride, and the infamous Cannonball Loop. These rides were notorious in their disregard for safety, especially the latter: a long, steep tube that bent in a circular loop that often caused people to get stuck, lose teeth, or find themselves in the water below nursing a concussion.
The park was owned and operated by a man named Gene Mulvihill, a Wall Street tycoon who harbored the Reagan-era ideology of deregulate and let nature take its course. His teen-centric amusement park was littered with rides that would make Evel Knievel wince, but parkgoers would affectionately refer to him as "Uncle Gene," for his genial presence and his flagrant disregard for the rules. A deep-dive into the interworkings of the park revealed that after a legal brouhaha, Mulvihill created his own bogus insurance company based in the Cayman Islands in order to avoid insanely high premiums. On top of shoddy practices for injured attendants, the pathways of the park were paved with asphalt that would fry the feet of those forgetful to pack flip-flops for their excursion. The medicine provided at the ramshackle infirmary was nothing more than a mysterious orange concoction of rubbing alcohol and iodine in a spray-bottle that once made a bodybuilder sob in agony.
If that's not jaw-dropping enough, Mulvihill would tantalize high schoolers to trial run untested rides with a crisp hundred dollar bill. His park was so wild and reckless that none other than Donald Trump, an interested investor at one time, declined to throw money towards the operation.
Thanks to archivists, footage of the park exists and has been well-circulated around the internet. For those unfortunate to have ever experienced the thrills of Action Park themselves, it's nothing short of watching a bygone time in history; an era that predated internet and cellphones that you could argue have curbed a large part of the adventurous nature inherent in children. Action Park existed at a time when kids would leave for their friend's houses after breakfast, ate lunch wherever they happened to be around noon, and wouldn't come back home until well into the evening. The crazy part? Parents didn't think to worry. Out of sight, out of mind.
Porges and Scott III don't shy away from the pain brought to mind for some when the name "Action Park" is mentioned. A sizable chunk of the third act revolves around a grieving mother, who lost her son to the park after he careened off the Apline Slide due to the cart's faulty brakes and bashed his skull on a rock. The teen was in a coma for over a week before the plug was pulled. His mother doesn't hold back in saying that her and her husband celebrated Mulvihill's death in 2012 with the nicest bottle of red wine they had following months of legal battles and his refusal to assume even the slightest bit of responsibility. It's that kind of angle in a documentary — one that does indeed provide many laughs and cringes — that reminds us of that numerous negligent deaths are tied to the complicated legacy of the park.
Action Park saw some renewed mainstream recognition two years ago, when Jackass frontman Johnny Knoxville and director Tim Kirkby dramatized the park and its legacy with the film Action Point, which featured real stunts performed by Knoxville. The film was slight, and truthfully, the documentary exposes its narrative shortcomings, despite the project being a callback to the scuzzy campground/beach comedies of the 1970s. Class Action Park is the definitive work on the attraction, with a delicately balanced tone of nostalgia and grief tied together in a thoroughly entertaining 88 minute package.
NOTE: Class Action Park is now available to stream on HBO Max.
NOTE II:Check out my review of Class Action Park on my web-show Sleepless with Steve. Catch the show Wednesday evenings at 8pm CST at twitch.tv/sleeplesswithsteve!
Directed by: Seth Porges and Chris Charles Scott III.