Review by Sean Boelman
It’s a well-known fact that (most) kids like to do stupid stuff, particularly when that stupid stuff is also somewhat dangerous, and the now-notorious Action Park was a refuge for those kids for nearly two decades before it closed. Seth Porges and Chris Charles Scott’s insanely entertaining but also surprisingly touching documentary Class Action Park takes a deep dive into the amusement park’s wild history.
The film takes a look at the literally deadly water park that was Action Park through the eyes of the people that worked there and the people who have memories of attending it. Now that Action Park has become such a legendary piece of pop culture, even having inspired a very mediocre Johnny Knoxville movie, it’s interesting to see just how crazy this place was in real-life.
One of the things that has allowed Action Park to live on so long in history is the nostalgia that people feel for it. Even though these rides are the very definition of unsafe, former park-goers still look back on their summer vacations there with a sense of glee and bewilderment, unable to figure out the cause of its unique charms but knowing them to be true.
Without a doubt, the best interviews in the movie come from those who are reminiscing about their favorite rides in the park. Comedian Chris Gethard is featured rather prominently in the film, having numerous hilarious anecdotes to tell about his experiences at Action Park as a kid. It is these very funny stories that make the movie so enjoyable to watch.
More than anything else, the film is an ode to the freedom of childhood. Yes, there are rules in the world, but sometimes it’s fun to break those rules, even if it comes at the expense of getting some bumps and bruises. As those who were able to “survive” Action Park would tell you, there’s been nothing quite like it before or since.
However, like Action Park itself, there is a second side to this story, and Porges and Scott don’t shy away from it. There is a significant tonal shift heading into the third act of the movie away from an energetic exploration of an unchecked amusement park to an exposé of the dark underpinnings of corporate America at the time. It’s a lot deeper and more hard-hitting than one would expect.
Porges and Scott also bring a very dynamic visual style to the film. There is some pretty extensive use of archive materials in the movie, some of which can make the viewer feel like they are actually at Action Park. Additionally, some animated sequences are used to depict the absurdity of the designs, and they are absolutely hilarious.
Class Action Park is a great documentary regardless of whether or not you have the nostalgia for its subject. Frequently funny and occasionally heartbreaking, the amount of love that was poured into this film is obvious.
Class Action Park streams on HBO Max beginning August 27.