Monday, February 6, 2017

Cool Runnings


Starring: Leon, Doug E. Doug, John Candy, Rawle D. Lewis, Malik Yoba, Peter Outerbridge, Raymond J. Barry

Rated PG (for Mild Language and a Fight)

Critics often whine about formula pictures.  I'm not among them.  If the other aspects of the film, such as acting and directing, are up to par, knowing the beats of the film can be acceptable, and at times, even an asset.  "Blood Diamond," which I watched again a few days ago, is a prime example (although knowing the adventure movie formula didn't add anything to the film, certainly not in the way Edward Zwick's earlier film, "The Last Samurai," did).  Of course, if the screenplay and the direction are lacking, you can end up with a movie like "Cool Runnings," which in addition to being predictable at every single moment, is written and directed at the level of a TV sitcom.  That's something I will not defend.

Derice Bannock (Leon) is the fastest man in Jamaica.  Or at least that's what everyone tells him.  The son of a champion track star, he's heavily favored to earn a spot on the Olympic track team.  However, one of his competitors trips and causes a collision.  Unable to get a second attempt, he hears of his father's old friend, Irv (Candy), who was a bobsled champion.  Derice and his friend Sanka (Doug), who a pushcart legend, track down Irv, but he wants nothing to do with them.  They are persistent, and eventually they get his attention.  But bobsledding is four man sport, and the only ones who are interested are Yul Brynner (Yoba), another victim of the collision, and Junior Bevil (Lewis), the one who caused it.  The odds are stacked against them, and it's going to take a miracle to get them to the Olympics.  Especially when no one takes them seriously.

This could have been a great movie.  But the writing is so shallow that it's impossible to see anyone in this movie as a real person.  They're stick figures stuck in a plot that we can predict almost moment to moment.  The only one who gains some semblance of a personality is Irv, and that's because Candy was talented enough to save the purple dialogue he was given.  I'll give an example without spoiling anything: Irv is required to make a big long speech on behalf of his team that is horribly written.  But Candy rescues it and turns it into something that's actually moving.  The other actors are fine, but whatever talents they have are squandered by a screenplay that's so dismal they might as well have been reading off cue cards.

The film was directed by Jon Turteltaub, whose resume does not inspire confidence.  "National Treasure" was awesome, but the sequel was not.  His other movies, such as "3 Ninjas" and "While You Were Sleeping," were entertaining, if forgettable, fluff.  And he did direct "Instinct," which is the kind of movie you wish you hadn't seen.  That he wasn't nominated for a Best Director Oscar is not the crime of the century.  The humor is frequently too broad to be funny and the attempts at drama fail utterly.  The racing scenes are put together with skill and I wanted the quartet to win, but that's as far as it goes.

More than anything, what's missing is any sort of depth to bobsledding as a sport.  The film told me nothing about it.  There's a lot of strategy and skill that goes into it, but according to the film, it's just a group of guys going down a roller coaster made of ice.  Wouldn't it have been more interesting to see how it's done?

This is one of those movies that was made with next to no effort behind the camera.  The actors give it their all, but the people making it simply wanted an easy buck.  It's doubly unfortunate that this was the last film John Candy got to see released before his death the next year.  Surely as big of a talent as he should have gotten a film that he would have been proud to end his career with.  "Wagons East" and "Canadian Bacon" were released posthumously, but from what I understand, that's only adding insult to injury.

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