Not rated, but it has plenty of the f-word. Really, it should be TV-MA, but rating movies is not my job. Heck, it's not even my job to write about movies anymore. I just do it because I do. But this isn't necessarily for all audiences. For the true crime fans out there, you understand the fact that people are talking about real death casually. But with Class Action Park, it kind of goes to the next level. Death is joked about at times and taken very seriously other times. It's not for everybody.
DIRECTORS: Seth Porges and Chris Charles Scott III
I've been talking about this ever since I saw the trailer. It's not like I ever went to Action Park. I can't be preaching this as a hometown favorite. But there's something instantly seductive about watching a documentary about a park that was infamous for injuries and deaths. Now, before I go into the whole hullaballoo about safety in parks, from what I understand, practically every theme park in the world has a death toll. It's kind of part of the secret history of theme parks. So if you want to instantly correct me for my morbid curiosity when it comes to Class Action Park, be aware that I know. I know. You don't have to tell me. People died at Disney. I get it. The fascination isn't necessarily that people died (although I don't feel great about writing that and coming to terms with that), the fascination lies in the fact that the guy who owned this place wanted it to be a little bit dangerous and had no understanding of engineering.
For a good chunk of the film, my wife and I were cracking up. You can't help it. The entire notion of Action Park seems absurd. The movie wisely gives us the background of Gene Mulvihill and how he just didn't care about safety at all. While probably part of the Greatest Generation, Gene was this guy who out Boomered the Boomers. He was a guy who grabbed as much money as he possibly could in the least ethical ways imaginable. He probably knew he was a criminal, but that did nothing to impact how he was going to act or run a business. So when this guy decided to open an amusement park, he didn't want to make it for crybabies. I mean, this was an oddly smart financial decision if he was okay with lawsuits because that appealed to a lot of the New Jersey crowd. After all, the appeal of the amusement park is the spectre of death. I'm not adding this as my own commentary. The documentary stresses that amusement parks have a goal of making you fear for your life despite the fact that you are perfectly safe (kind of). But removing those barriers between the illusion of danger and a very real potential of danger was appealing to a lot of people. I don't know if everyone who visited Action Park knew of the danger, but it seemed to be one of the marketable traits of the location.
The humor really comes from the absurdity of the entire situation. Recreated through crude animations, Class Action Park illustrated how dangerous this park got. Possibly the most insane thing I have ever seen involved a waterslide that ended in a vertical corkscrew. The idea was that the rider was dropped into pitch black darkness at such an insane vertical angle that they often left the safety of the slide, launched up and over. But it would be commonplace that if you were either too big or too small, there was a chance that you couldn't get the right velocity to make your way around the corkscrew. So you'd end up slamming into the vertex of the corkscrew and they'd have to fish you out. From my audience perspective, it's just one of those things that seems impossible to exist. We live in a world where it is hard to organize a Breakfast with Santa (speaking from experience), let alone get a whole bunch of people to make a ride that everyone knows wouldn't work. This was Gene's philosophy. Because he wasn't really an engineer, he would pay to build these rides that often were immediately scrapped because people couldn't actually complete the ride. Remember how the appeal of death had to be a smart financial decision? I don't know how those ticket prices paid for all of the insane experimentation that Gene Mulvihill allowed on the grounds.
But tonally, Class Action Park rides a really fine line. There's something remarkably entertaining about this absurd park that got people killed. It's morbid humor at its best. But the movie doesn't treat all death as a joke. I mean, those animated segments really wanted to make us laugh. It wasn't an accident that Chris Gethard had the best stories about the park. The movie is meant to be funny. But the issue is that death really affects people. The filmmakers are aware of that. They brought in the mother of a child who died at the park. Well through all the laughter, there's a haunting shift to a mother's testimony about a young child who died at this park because of Gene Mulvihill's laziness and braggadocio. What this kind of leads to is an odd commentary on gawker culture. Really, the movie slightly jabs at you for getting in the spirit of the film. If we are meant to look at this woman in the eye as she laments the memory of her child, doesn't that make us in the same categories as the thrill seekers who are just looking for a good laugh? I suppose the true crime genre has always walked a fine line between those who fight for justice and those who want to hear sordid details about the dead. But the movie never really actively criticizes us for being rubberneckers. It takes the safe position of having its cake and eating it too.
But as much as I enjoy the film, there's something that's terribly haunting about the film as a whole. It's no surprise that I am one of the many of my generation who hold nostalgia as currency. It's why I read and went to see Ready Player One. It's a dangerous precedent. And this movie might be the one that have turned us into the next generation of Boomers. Every generation values its childhood (for the most part). Things were always better in those days and they certainly were harder. "These kids today have no idea what it was like." There's a very strong message of the toughness of '80s kids. Sure, the commentary is more along the lines of things being both better and worse at the same time. Because things were dangerous, we loved the choices presented to us. But at the same time, we shouldn't had to have made those choices as children. As kids of the '80s, we waded for a good long time in the nostalgia pool. We lead lives surrounded by toys and games and we revel in those memories. But by saying that we're somehow different from current generations has officially made us old. Class Action Park, for all of its glory, might have actually put the final nail in the coffin for people in their 30s and 40s.
But at the end of the day, I still talk about this film. I recommend it to everyone. It's got the allure of a true crime story with the goofiness of Wet Hot American Summer. While I'm glad the park is closed, I'm oddly intrigued that it ever existed.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.