Review: 'Class Action Park' documents unbelievable true story of infamous water park
Courtesy of HBO MAX
A story that’s so outlandish and illogical, it can only be true. The new HBO MAX documentary “Class Action Park,” highlights and documents the trials and tribulations of Action Park, a water park in New Jersey that was pegged by those who braved it, as a literal death trap. One particular water side, named “Cannonball Run,” was equipped with a 360 degree loop that caused more trauma than fun and the infamous “Alpine Slides” actually killed someone.
At times, the shocking documentary “Class Action Park” is both a blast and heartbreaking, this was the one amusement park that lived up to its reputation. People died and countless others were injured and/or permanently disfigured. The rides were “monitored” by a squad of young, horny, teenagers who would constantly leave lifeguard posts to do drugs and bang, before returning to a child on the verge of drowning. At one point, “Action Park” was so popular (and accident prone) the owners had to buy and supply their own ambulances.
“Class Action Park” delicately covers the park's wild and unbelievable history - the title is one of its many nicknames - through a series of interviews with old staff members and archival footage that confirms everyone’s sneaking suspicions: this place was dangerous. The filmmakers‘ even managed to wrangle comedian Chris Gethard into the mix, and his off-color brand of humor and hilarious recollection of his days spent at Action Point are one of the film's greatest strengths. The film also incorporates animated sequences to help visualize some of the park’s more gruesome incidents.
But what’s truly shocking about “Class Action Park” we learn, is how founder and CEO of the park, Gene Mulvihill, would manufacture rides from his sick and twisted mind in an attempt to create “real experience.” For example, a tubing ride designed to simulate dangerous rapids, the kind that would kill you. When asked why the ride didn’t keep a lifeguard nearby in case of an incident, Mulvihill would say “there are no lifeguards to save you in real life.”
As the documentary progresses, we learn Mulvihill’s - nicknamed by staff members as “Uncle Gene” - sly antics. Not only did he never apologize for the mistakes he made, but would challenge anyone that tried to sue him and the park. His tactic? Never settle, in the hopes people would exhaust all their resources and expenses. And, in the rare instances where he lost a case, the US Marshalls would come knocking on the door demanding payment. This might sound overly familiar to anyone who followed politics over the last ten years.
Considering Action Park’s commitment to sheer insanity and disregard for OSHA regulations (the park was the subject of the ill-conceived Johnny Knoxville comedy “Action Point” from two summers ago) it’s hard not to reminisce and laugh at the nostalgia of it all. As many people in the documentary will confess, this was the 1980s’ and times were different, which would explain why Action Park stayed in business until 1996 (Uncle Gene creating a fake insurance company in the Cayman Islands to launder money probably didn’t hurt either).
But late in the film, directors Chris Charles, Scott and Seth Porges, alter gears and dig deeper into the family of one man who died at Action Park. It's a stark shift from what came before, but part of me hoped to learn more from residents in the community and how they felt about the reputation that stemmed from the park (I can’t imagine many residents loved the place). Still, give credit where it's due and “Class Action Park” could have stayed with the carefree attitude and kept delivering laughs, but at least these seasoned directors weren’t afraid to push the boundaries and tried to balance the scales.
In the end, “Class Action Park” will serve as the primary document that perfectly encapsulates the essence of what this place radiated, and as a reminder that it’s all fun and games, until someone gets hurt.
CLASS ACTION PARK premieres exclusively on HBO MAX Thursday August 27th.