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Class Action Park

When AN AMERICAN PICKLE was released on HBO Max on August 6, it was the first major motion picture to debut on HBO’s new and enhanced streaming service. The Seth Rogen vehicle had its moments but didn’t quite have the impact that one would have hoped for from a new platform yearning to make a splash. Luckily, HBO Max still had an ace up its sleeve.

CLASS ACTION PARK is not only the best documentary I’ve seen this year, but will easily emerge as one of the most entertaining movies of 2020. Engaging, hilarious, thought-provoking, heart-breaking, and baffling, it is the story of one of the world’s most outrageous amusement parks. Featuring interviews from former guests, employees, and victims (yes, victims) it captures an era of absurdity that will likely, and thankfully, never be matched.

Eugene Mulvihill was a slick and ambitious businessman who knew what he wanted out of life. Unafraid to cut corners and endanger others, he refused to be bogged down by the burdensome logistical complexities of opening an amusement park. Having spent some time cutting shady deals on Wall Street, he set his sights on creating the biggest, best, and most profitable park that ever existed. This is how Action Park was born.

In 1978, the inhabitants of the sleepy, picturesque Vernon, New Jersey had no idea of the horrors that were set to unfold as the park opened its doors. They, along with most rational people, had surely seen Pleasure Island in PINOCCHIO and viewed it as the cautionary tale it was meant to be. Though never directly mentioned, it’s like Mulvihill saw this horrifying sequence and discovered his business model. Not to be deterred by silly trivialities like regulations or restrictions, the entrepreneur, who had absolutely no background in engineering, began assembling absurd rides that he deemed exciting. This included a slide that featured a giant loop that defied (and was denied by) gravity, a raging rapids that caused tubes to slam into one another with reckless abandon, a wave pool that was so extreme that multiple people drowned, and an alpine slide that injured some, maimed others, and even killed a guest. Through it all, people came in droves. Flocking from New York City, they crammed into every inch of the park, drinking, fight- ing, and insulting one another, knowing full well that the teenagers in charge weren’t going to do anything about it.

The vintage footage utilized by CLASS ACTION PARK serves as an excellent complement to the staggering stories that unfold. In many ways, the doc reminded me of Net- flix’s juggernaut, TIGER KING. Not in regards to structure or content, mind you, but just the overall feel of things. As people soar down a slide and then sail into space, or their tube goes up and nearly decapitates the rider in front of them, you can’t help but sit in slack-jawed amazement at the absurdity of it all. Like the ballad of Joe Exotic, I watched PARK with breathless anticipation, wondering what could possibly happen next.

The majority of CLASS ACTION PARK is a raucous romp, but it takes a serious turn when exploring the needless death of George Larsson Jr. Highlighted by a haunting interview with his mother, it hammers home the point that Mulvihill was so disinterested with the welfare of his guests that he was blind and ignorant to the real-life ramifications of his deadly contraptions. Perfectly willing to lie in a bid to dodge the legal ramifications of his negligence, his shameful response to Larsson’s death is shocking in its blatant dishonesty.

There were times when I wondered if the recollections of those connected to Action Park had been slightly exaggerated by the years that have passed, and while this certainly may be the case, there were plenty of footage and news stories to back up many of the wildest claims. I found the commentary by former visitor Chris Gethard to be especially engaging. His delivery was pitch-perfect, and much like Agent Doug Matthews in MCMILLIONS, he absolutely steals the film. He comes across as the type of guy that you’d want to sit and have a drink with, in hopes that he could talk about his outlandish experiences for another couple of hours. His outrageous tales, based on memories, nostalgia, pride, and continued disbelief, was a perfect encapsulation of the park and its legacy.

CLASS ACTION PARK: GRADE A

RUN TIME: 1h 30min
GENRE: Documentary
DIRECTORS: Chris Charles Scott III, Seth Porges
MUSIC: Ryan Holladay, Hays Holladay

Brian Miller
Film Critic
Based out of Central New York, Brian Miller is a film critic who works in television, radio, and print. Providing passionate and energetic takes on every movie he sees, he looks for the best in a movie, not the worst.