If you haven’t heard, this year in Sochi, Russia, the Olympic Winter Games will once again feature athletes from Jamaica representing their country in the bobsled. This is awesome news for fans of the olympics, bobsledding, general sledding, snow, ice, Jamaica, Jamaicans, reggae, other music, sports, underdogs, and inspirational stories.
Also, if you were alive in the 90’s, the nostalgia factor will almost certainly play a role since there’s a snowballs chance in the Caribbean that you missed Cool Runnings, the fictionalized Disney take on the real life Jamaican bobsled team’s first appearance in the ’88 Calgary winter games.
Cool Runnings is a notably simple movie which, to be fair, is in accordance with nearly every other movie in the underdog sports story genre. Though they have become a seemingly permanent fixture in American film, the underdog sports movie is as predictable, cliche-ridden and formulaic as a movie can get. A virtual cinematic mad lib where the sport, characters, and locations are independent of a plot that seldom strays from a familiar template.
More or less it’s this: athletes do athletic stuff when somewhere along the line, the athletic stuff they are doing gets harder. The athletes struggle, do a little tubthumping, and participate in at least one montage. Soon after, something goes horribly wrong and our athletes, now destined to lose, are pretty bummed out by the whole situation.
Then, when all seems lost, someone delivers The Speech That Changes Everything and our athletes narrowly defeat the adversity that has befallen them, usually, but not always, by scoring more points. This all comes to a gut wrenching, national pride inducing, awe inspiring culmination that is nothing if not contrived, and entirely too good to be true. And you know whats wrong with this? Absolutely nothing.
Sports movies kick ass. So what if the sports and characters and locations are interchangeable and unimportant? If anything, this serves as definitive proof, or something pretty close to it, that these movies aren’t even about sports. They’re about fortitude and human triumph, and everyone’s into that.
Cool Runnings follows four Jamaican sprinters, desperate to be olympians, who make the switch to bobsledding after tripping, falling, and failing to qualify in an olympic 100m prelim. In a turn of truly ridiculous happenstance, there’s a gold medal winning, American former bobsledder (John Candy) who lives on the island. The sprinters, Derice, Sanka, Yul Brenner, and Junior Bevil start their training under the tutelage of the aforementioned American bobsledder, Irv Blitzer.
For anyone unfamiliar with the planet Earth, there is, and never has been, any snow in Jamaica. Bobsledding, to which snow is by most accounts important, is therefore difficult to practice on the island of Jamaica. This is basically the point of the whole movie. The Jamaicans have no business being in the Winter Olympics and everyone knows this to be an irrevocable truth. Well, everyone but the Jamaicans.
Making use of a unique but unmistakably Jamaican style, the sprinters and their coach set out to prove that the pursuit of excellence is an aspiration shared by all humans. An endeavor that is unbounded by geography, topography, or even the climate. And though at times the movie can be cheesy and unsurprising, Cool Runnings makes amends for its few downfalls and leaves you simply feeling better for having watched it. I give it a . . .