Class Action Park, 2020.
Directed by Chris Charles Scott and Seth Porges.
A documentary that focuses on a dangerously legendary water park and its slew of injuries and crimes along with child safety concerns.
Action Park was a hit in New Jersey during the 1980s. The theme park offered up plenty of thrills for its guest, but this place was so much more than a waterslide park. You find out during the runtime of Class Action Park that this amusement park was actually a dangerous playground for a corrupt businessman. But sadly, the documentary only wants to focus on the negatives of the park at the end, as it would rather spend its time looking back fondly on weird ride design than the actual story at hand.
There’s a major tone issue for me in Class Action Park, which gave this viewing experience a dark cloud. I enjoyed the look at this theme park, and I found it to be well-made, but the happy nostalgia for Action Park outweighed the actual dark stories that needed to be told. It feels like the creators and commentators present here are a bit too nostalgic for this theme park, where you’d expect it to be a bit more pointed. Not saying it needed to be a scathing takedown of the man who ran the park, but it truly didn’t have anything to say than present the events in a sterile manner.
Still, there’s a lot of information thrown at viewers here, and it’s hard to deny that it’s not engaging from start to finish. The middle portion where it’s just a montage of people talking about rides does feel a bit tedious, but it’s usually buddled up with an insane story to help bring you right back.
Class Action Park looks at Action Park with rose-colored glasses; it brings on people with a rich history at the park, who dive into their memories of either attending or working at Action Park. While some people don’t speak fondly of their time at the theme park, most of the people recalling events are 40-year-olds who miss the days when kids would play outside. They remember Action Park as this dangerous yet wonderful time in their lives. This allows the whole documentary to present this super nostalgic look at the park, and at times, the nostalgia is earned.
A lot of these people look at themselves as the last era of these types of “outside kids.” One of the presenters speaks openly about sneaking behind his parent’s backs to attend the park, but in the same breath, he says he’d kill his kids if they tried something like that today. It’s a true look at a time in American culture that was a bit more lawless and wild, which reflects the attitude at the park.
You hear stories of 14-year-olds running rides meant to be operated by adults, the fact that underage drinking was rampant, and this was all run by a man who has fake insurance for this theme park. It’s a true reflection of an era that is long gone, but it’s interesting to see how many look back fondly on it but would rather not return to those days. Like even though the park was insanely dangerous, people can’t look past the fun and mystic of the past.
Maybe it would be easier to look at Action Park with the same fondness as the creators of this if they didn’t do such a good job of showcasing Gene Mulvihill as such a bad person. Look, they made it clear he was a “go-getter” and just living his dream, but Mulvihill did it in the worst way possible. Class Action Park will weave these tales of his corruption, scheming, and lying throughout the documentary and then go right back to people walking down memory lane. It isn’t until the final stretch of the film where it fully shifts into looking at the consequences of Mulvihill’s actions.
Maybe that’s meant to reflect a ride at the park: you are having fun and then hit hard when you crash back into reality. They don’t ignore Mulvihill and his dubious ways, but it needed to spend a bit more time on those hurt by his ways. The moment where we hear an extremely powerful story from a mother and a brother who lost someone at this park really hit me, and it really needed more time.
Gene Mulvihill seemingly got off easy in a documentary meant to discuss what happened at his park. Directors Chris Charles Scott and Seth Porges didn’t need to make a hit piece, but in the year of Tiger King, it’s wild when that handled its controversial figures with more care. Mulvihill had snakes infesting the speedboat ponds, bees swarming a lagoon, and teeth from injured kids stuck in a ride, but it felt more important to talk about the way a ride was built shoddily than questioning why so many people let this happen.
While it may sound like I dislike this documentary, it’s not that, but I think this only scratched the surface of what really needed to be discussed. With little fun moments of animation and a great gaggle of people who know Action Park like the back of their hand, Class Action Park is undoubtedly an entertaining viewing. But maybe the filmmakers did too good of a job at exposing a dark side of the world of business that I wanted more follow-up.
If you remember Action Park from its notorious history or looking for that next shocking documentary, the latest HBO Max release is for you. Just prepare to see the door open to a wild world you never knew existed, and understand that Class Action Park is about the ride, not the aftermath.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★