Admittedly, I don’t watch a lot of sports movies. Maybe it’s the fact that they mostly seem to follow the same inspirational story arc, maybe it’s the fact that I’m not into that many sports, or maybe it’s the fact that watching a clearly staged game isn’t as exciting as watching one live; who knows? Nonetheless, I indulge in smatterings of the sports genre here and there: A Knight’s Tale… Battlefield Baseball… you know, the classics. Anyway, trifecta completed:
Cool Runnings (1993)
The Plot: After an unfortunate accident disqualifies three Jamaican sprinters (Leon, Rawle D. Lewis, and Malik Yoba) from competing in the Olympics, one of them becomes possessed of a radical alternative: bobsledding. You might not, at first glance, consider the two sports interchangeable, but these three runners seem satisfied. Of course, one does not simply become an Olympic athlete in three months in a sport you’ve never heard of in a climate that doesn’t support it… without the proper training. Where the hell are a bunch of Jamaicans supposed to get a professional coach for a winter sport? In disgraced former bobsledder John Candy. I realized recently that that’s all I want to be in life: a disgraced former bobsledder. I just want to be able to say that about myself. I know I said that all I want in life is to be a symbol of justice for the common man, but this might trump that.
Anyway, what develops from that inspirational concept is an equally inspirational early ‘90s Disney movie. A lot of things are working really hard to make Cool Runnings a memorable and lovable film. One of them is 1993. The ‘90s shine through in a big way, here. Not quite in a Space Jam way, but sizable nonetheless. The costuming is amazing, and I kind of wish the level of confidence with which people wore achingly bright colors all over their bodies on a regular basis survived into and beyond 2014. We’d all be happier people, I think. No one had any problems in the 1990s, right? You simply don’t get that anymore.
The other thing you don’t get anymore is John Candy. I miss John Candy. He is unsurprisingly fabulous as a disgraced former bobsledder. Candy’s always funny in his movies, but there’s also this constant underlying melancholy (I tried writing “patheticism” before realizing it’s not a word; my computer wanted to autocorrect it to “athleticism.” There’s not always an underlying athleticism to Candy’s roles). Anyway, he takes that something sad and works it in with the humor once again. There’s something particularly shameful about the disgrace Candy feels. It must have been bad if it turned him from an Olympic athlete into, well, into early ‘90s John Candy. We get an explanation in one of his classic heartfelt speeches, of which the script provides several. Funny though he is, John Candy just rocks the heartfelt speeches. Where would we be without them?
The Jamaican team itself is quite well developed. Candy doesn’t completely steal the show. Rather than being enamored with a headlining comedian, the filmmakers devote ample time to all of the characters. Leon is the star, not Candy. The others are all well-rounded and deep. Their drive is clear to us, their motivation is, indeed, inspirational, and their story is well worth telling. The climax is surprisingly moving, but not overwrought. By the end, we’re genuinely invested in the plight of these unlikely heroes and their disgraced former bobsledder coach. At this point, I’d be happy to be called a disgraced former anything. I’d be willing to drop bobsledder for something else. I just… I have a dream now.
Uplifting sports comedy aside, what was most interesting to me was the language in the film. This is a PG Disney movie aimed in every way at children, and yet it still contains phrases like “badass mother who don’t take crap off no one” (repeated at least six times) and my personal favorite, “like a two-dollar hooker.” Now, I’ll admit that there is an outside chance that I misheard that second one, and certainly Disney’s depending on me thinking that, and hiding behind the perfectly intelligible Jamaican accents to conceal some unexpectedly inappropriate stuff. Would you catch that in a Disney movie made today? Hells no. Did it take a lot of time and energy for me to resist the temptation to include the phrase “two-dollar hooker” in my title? Hells yeah. If I had, I surely would have lost my job… and then I’d be a disgraced former film critic. Crap. Opportunity missed.