Class Action Park


Throwing sanity for a loop.

(2020) Documentary (Perennial Media) Chris Gethard, John Hodgman (narrator), Jim DeSaye, Jessi Paladini, Ed Youmans, Bill Benneyan, Esther Larsson, Bob Krahulik, Mary Pilon, Mark Johnson, Faith Anderson, Andrew Mulvihill, Tom Shaw, Matthew Callan, Jimmy Kimmel, Brian Larsson, Daron Fitch, Seth Porges, Joe Hession, Mark Malkoff, Eugene Mulvihill, Alison Becker. Directed by Seth Porges and Chris Charles Scott III

Anyone ever tell you that truth is stranger than fiction? Well, here’s a documentary that’s living proof of that aphorism.

In the rolling hills of Vernon, New Jersey Wall Street penny stock trader Eugene Mulvihill, having been playing a bit fast and loose with SEC regulations in his day job, decided he wanted to build a water park near New York City. Water parks were pretty much new back then in the 80s, and Eugene found a property in the rolling hills of Vernon, New Jersey that was a ski resort. Ski resorts, however, only make money in the winter so he building a year-round theme park would be the ticket. He called his property Action Park.

“Uncle Gene,” as his staff generally called him, didn’t care much for regulations and had the deep pockets of a Wall Street crony to give him nearly limitless resources. He decided to build attractions that were one-of-a-kind and they certainly were that, like Cannonball Loop, a water slide with a loop in it. Gene preferred using non-professionals to design his rides – they were much cheaper than guys with engineering degrees – and the proof of how dangerous the ride was came when an inspection revealed human teeth embedded in the lining of the loop where people’s faces had slammed at high speeds into the top of the loop.

There were cliff diving recreations that had people jumping into a pool that people were swimming in. There was a wave pool with a “death zone” in which people would get swept under (and it became a literal death zone when a couple of people drowned in it). That’s right – people died going to this theme park, seven of ‘em in five years.

But back in the halcyon days of the 80s, parents really didn’t care where their kids were so long as they weren’t bothering them. So in the tri-state area, teens would go to Action Park to test their mettle against dangerous rides, like go-carts that could reach speeds of 50 MPH and came dangerously close to the beer tent – oh, and the legal drinking age was just a suggestion so far as Action Park was concerned.

Mulvihill had a largely teenage staff who weren’t terribly interested in enforcing safety regulations; most of them were too busy getting drunk, high or laid to properly supervise rides. Vinnies from the Shore and from the City would show up at Action Park looking to get blasted and come away with scars of honor. Even the medical shed was a house of horrors; scrapes were treated with a skeevy orange liquid that was so painful that anyone so treated with it who could stay within a painted circle on the ground without writhing in pain outside of it won a prize (which was an Action park pen more often than not).

The filmmakers tell the story through home video recovered from videotapes, old advertisements, talking head interviews (comedian Chris Gethard, a regular at the park in its heyday, is particularly amusing) and animated recreations.

At first, the documentary is hilarious as you can’t believe the bizarre ideas that Mulvihill allowed to be created at his park. But then the Larsson family tells their story and the tone shifts. George Larsson Jr. was a teen with a bright future ahead of him, but while screaming down the mountain at sick speeds on the Alpine Slide, the flimsily built sled he was riding saw its brakes fail and he went head-first into a rock. It turned out that the insurance policy that Mulvihill was carrying was a complete fraud, one he used to launder money out to the Caymans. And when fined, or sued, Mulvihill just refused to pay. It’s amazing he didn’t end up in jail, but he learned from Donald Trump – who was at one time considering investing in the Park – and his powerful connections kept him out of jail. His son, who inherited the park, was one of the talking heads interviewed for the film and while he remembers his father fondly, he also remembers him without sugar-coating.

Ultimately the park shut down as the 80s gave way to the 90s and parental supervision became a little stricter. I think most of those interviewed agree that something like Action Park could never happen again, but I wonder about that. Despite the lawsuit-happy culture we live in, deregulation seems to be something that the conservatives thoroughly endorse; it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that safety regulations for theme and water parks might be struck down just as environmental regulations have been.

This is a fascinating documentary that had me riveted from beginning to end. I lived on the opposite side of the country from Action Park, so thankfully I cut my teeth on theme and water parks that had a bit more consideration for safety. I suspect some remember the park fondly, but I’m reasonably sure that nobody would like to go back to it if they could.

REASONS TO SEE: Laugh-out-loud funny. Jaw-dropping in a “I can’t believe they got away with that” way. Captures the feeling of the Eighties very nicely. Lots of great clips.
REASONS TO AVOID: You might feel a little bit ashamed of yourself for laughing from time to time.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity and a few disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Johnny Knoxville based his movie Action Point on a short film Porges made on Action Park that preceded this full-length feature.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: HBO Max
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/15/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews, Metacritic: 69/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Action Point
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT:
Behind the Lines: Escape to Dunkirk

Musical Comedy Whore


All the world’s an off-Broadway stage.

(2020) Musical Comedy (Breaking Glass) David Pevsner. Directed by Brendan Russo

 

David Pevsner is a Los Angeles-based actor, comedian and singer who has loved musical comedies all his life. Now, some will stereotype him as a gay man for that – and he happens to be gay – but not all gay men know the lyrics to every song in Cabaret. I suspect Pevsner might.

This one-man show, filmed live, is essentially a confessional about his life which has been sordid at times – he for some time worked as a prostitute even as he was singing on Broadway – fun at times and unbearably lonely at other times, but he narrates the details with a keen sense of humor, and an occasionally bawdy tune, accompanied only by a pianist who harmonizes with him from time to time vocally.

This isn’t for those who are squeamish about gay men having sex, because Pevsner talks about it a lot; in fact even if you’re okay with it might have a “TMI” reaction to the monologues overall, but if you bear with it and check your hang-ups at the door (or more accurately, at the streaming site) you might learn something about human nature and maybe even a little bit about yourself.

=Filmed versions of a stage show live and die by how good the audience response is; Pevsner wasn’t blessed with a particularly vocal audience and at times some of the funniest lines are met with dead silence, which doesn’t help matters much. Pevsner is an engaging performer, self-effacing and without any sort of filter. Some of the songs work, some don’t; some of the jokes work, some don’t but there is no denying that this project comes from Pevsner’s heart.

From time to time Pevsner talks about things in life that are painful, some unbearably so – like the first real relationship he was in that despite the obvious love he had for his partner (and still does, if the show is any indication), the relationship became toxic and he had to give it up. I think we’ve all been through that kind of thing – loving someone deeply who was clearly no good for us and having to give it up to save ourselves from falling apart.

Yeah, I get that at times this comes off like a therapy session for a mature queen, but it takes all types to make a world. I’ve been fortunate enough to be friends with a wide range of gay men in my time (living for 20 years in the San Francisco Bay Area makes that almost inevitable) and while not all of them are like Pevsner, some are and the world is a better place with them in it as far as I’m concerned.

=So will you like this? Well, that depends on how open-minded you are about frank discussions of a gay man’s sexual history, and whether or not you like musical comedies your own self, because there’s a lot of singing and it is very much in the vein of modern musicals. I will confess I’m more of a classicist when it comes to musical theater, but there were things about A Chorus Line that I loved and the music is in many ways in that vein, so be forewarned – this is a bit of a niche video, but if you fit into that niche, you’ll find this entertaining and enlightening.

REASONS TO SEE: Funny and poignant in equal doses.
REASONS TO AVOID: At times feels like we’re listening in on a psychotherapy session.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a whole mess of profanity and sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The show was filmed at the Colony Theater in beautiful downtown Burbank, California.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/15/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wanda Sykes: Not Normal
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Class Action Park