Cool Runnings

1993, Movie, PG, 98 mins

Review

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COOL RUNNINGS has a great premise: a movie based on the true story of the Jamaican bobsledders who amused the world at the 1988 Olympics. But this Disney film, a stale and out-of-date offering, is far less interesting than seeing the real athletes during the Olympic telecasts.

When top Jamaican sprinter Derice Bannock (Leon) gets accidentally tripped during a race by Junior Bevel (Rawle D. Lewis), he loses his chance to make the summer Olympic squad. The head of the Jamaican Organizing Team tells Derice how, years earlier, an Olympic-winning American bobsledder approached Derice's Jamaican sprinter father about trying the icy sport. The comment inspires Derice, with his push-cart champion friend Sanka Coffie (Doug E. Doug), to track down the coach Irv Blitzer (John Candy). Derice convinces the reluctant Irv to teach them bobsledding, and he and Sanka are joined by the two sprinters who also lost their summer Olympic chance, Junior and Yul Brenner (Malik Yoba).

Irv gradually trains the four to be competitive with the rest of the world. Although Junior's father disapproves of his athletic aspirations, the young man secretly sells his car so the team can use the money to get to Calgary. When they arrive in Canada, Irv meets his former American teammates, now coaches, who confront him about his cheating in the 1972 games. Despite the ridicule of the other athletes, the Jamaicans qualify for the finals. The Association of Winter Sports tries to disqualify Irv's team on trumped-up charges, but he protests and gets them reinstated. The Jamaicans have a great run and miraculously end up in eighth place. In the finals, however, they crash and must walk their sled to the finish line. They leave Calgary as heroes, nonetheless, full of pride for their country and themselves.

Don't look for any kind of originality in COOL RUNNINGS: this comedy is as simple-minded as they come. It's a shame such a potentially humorous subject was handled so poorly; a documentary on the real Jamaican bobsledders would have made a better movie. While producer Dawn Steel reportedly fought to get the movie off the drawing board, director Jon Turteltaub brings little passion to his side of the project. Screenwriters Lynn Siefert, Tommy Swerdlow, and Michael Goldberg's hackneyed story, however, is the movie's biggest disappointment. The stock characters are all here: Derice, the responsible one; Sanka, the clown; Junior, the wimpy rich kid; Yul, the gruff outsider; and Irv, the down-on-his-luck coach.

In this version, the entire world is against the lovable Jamaicans, whereas in reality they immediately became media darlings. Here also, embarrassingly dated Cold War nonsense involving the evil East German team eats up a good deal of screen time. No athletes would have openly taunted the Jamaicans at an international competition, particularly a team that reveled in its athletic ability and professionalism as much as the East Germans. Junior's father disapproves of him being on the team, but the young man learns to stand up to him. Derice must find out if he is man enough to lose gracefully. Irv must come to terms with his Olympic past. And Yul must find out that he can achieve his dreams despite his poor upbringing. All along the Olympic road, of course, the Jamaicans stick to their roots, uttering the phrase "No problem, man" more than we care to hear it.

The funniest scenes depict the motley team's preparation for Calgary: practicing bobsledding in a bathtub, putting Sanka in an ice cream truck to get him used to ice (he emerges shivering and breaking off one of his frozen dreadlocks), selling kisses to Jamaican ladies to raise money, and running into cops with their training cart. But these scenes are far too short and insignificant, and give no inkling of how hard they would have to work to beat the long odds they faced. The other actors have to work their way through too many inconsequential bits of business, some comical--Sanka's kissing of an egg for good luck--and some corny--Junior's talk with his father in which he asserts his manhood.

The cool Jamaican tunes build the mood nicely, sometimes even making the movie seem more entertaining than it is. Befitting its Disney roots, this is an ideal movie for children, who will enjoy the film's colorful surface and focus on Sanka's funny antics. There is little to give offence in terms of sex and language, but for everyone else, COOL RUNNINGS doesn't even rate a bronze medal as either sports film or comedy. leave a comment

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