Film review: Cool Runnings

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 13 2002 10:11 a.m. MST

"Cool Runnings" is a Jamaican phrase for "Peaceful Journey" and eventually becomes the name attached to the disheveled bobsled piloted by four hapless Jamaican Olympian wannabes who decide to go for the gold with a sport that their country is obviously not exactly known for . . . or even familiar with.

The islanders represent the usual movie mix — the proud runner (and leader of the group) who wants to live up to his father's Olympic reputation (Leon), the goofball comic who takes nothing seriously (Doug E. Doug), the streetwise tough guy with no education and an attitude (Malik Yoba) and the sensitive nerd who allows himself to be pushed around by his wealthy father — and everybody else (Rawle D. Lewis).

And you can see from a mile away the story's plot developments, as these four bunglers who don't know the first thing about bobsledding align themselves with a down-and-out coach (John Candy) in need of a self-esteem jolt. Did you ever think they wouldn't get into the Olympics?

Their arrival at the Games causes a stir as they almost embarrass themselves in the early trials. And since their coach is not exactly loved by the other teams and coaches, they have another strike against them.

As if you can't tell from the 30-second ad spots on television, the film builds toward and winds up with a "Rocky"-style formula treatment of the climactic Olympic bobsled race, as they find themselves being cheered by friends and enemies alike.

Based on a true story about a Jamaican bobsled team that wowed the audience (and the officials) at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, "Cool Runnings" obviously takes some liberties in presenting the story in movie terms. How much of this slapstick comedy is really true or how accurate the character portrayals are is open to skepticism.

But there is no denying that the film, as directed by Jon Turteltaub ("3 Ninjas") and written by first-timer Lynn Siefert, is charming and funny and completely ingratiating.

In its own way, "Cool Runnings" reminded me of "The Gods Must Be Crazy," which was another film that employed fairly predictable and familiar fish-out-of-water slapstick to tell its story. But the setting and characters were so unique that the film quickly overcame its shortcomings to become a very satisfying piece of movie entertainment.

"Cool Runnings" starts off a little slow and doesn't really hit its stride until the team gets to Calgary, but the ensemble cast carries it off with comic poise so that the film becomes a genuine comic treat.

"Cool Runnings" is rated PG for violence (a barroom brawl), a few profanities and a few vulgar jokes.

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