One dream. Four Jamaicans. Twenty below zero.
Cool Runnings is a 1993 sports-comedy film directed by Jon Turteltaub, written by Lynn Siefert, Tommy Swerdlow, and Michael Goldberg, produced by Walt Disney Pictures, and distributed by Buena Vista Pictures. The film is loosely inspired by the Jamaican bobsleigh team in the 1988 Olympics. It stars Leon Robinson and Doug E. Doug. The film was not nominated for any Academy Awards.
"Can lightning run on ice?" -Roger
Olympic runner Derice Bannock is ready to qualify for the Olympics. After four years of training, he has it in the bag...until he trips and falls during the qualifier. Yearning to go to the Olympics, Derice recruits his best friend, Sanka Coffie and worn out athlete Irv Blitzer to create the first Jamaican bobsled team. Exceeding all expectations, the team qualifies for the Olympics and must defeat all odds to win the gold medal.
So this is going to be my first review in the new format. I'm going to run through a summary of the plot and comment on certain things as I go through it. This is a fun movie that is a joyride to watch for everyone, while also providing some sentiment and powerful moments along the way.
The movie opens with Derice (Leo Robinson) practicing for the track qualifier. Right off the bat, the movie has a fun vibe and a feel-good, light tone, which is good for a sports-comedy. We transition to the end of Derice's run as well as the end of the opening credits. Derice heads over to the pushcart track, where we meet his best friend, Sanka (Doug E. Doug). I will say that while Sanka is easily the funniest character in the movie, his voice is pretty annoying. You get used to it eventually and it doesn't bother you, but this high, screechy voice is shocking when you first meet it.
We watch Sanka run in this pushcart race, where he is talking trash in the middle of a high-speed competition. This was the first sign to me that the movie was going to be pretty cartoonish. Yes, it is a PG Disney movie about a Jamaican bobsled time, which would make it corny in the first place, but Sanka and some of the other characters are really overly cartoonish at some points. Sanka crashes at the end, and Derice goes to check on him.
After that, we get some more beautiful shots of Jamaica. I don't know where this part was shot, but the shooting location for Jamaica was breathtaking. I thought it captured the tiny island perfectly and fit in with this movie's tone like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. I also thought that Hans Zimmer's score worked well throughout the entire film.
After the race, Derice lines up at the qualifying race. We get an introduction to two new characters, which I thought was a very lazy way to give us new characters. Yul Brenner (Malik Yoba), this tough, bald, grumpy runner and Junior Bevil (Rawle D. Lewis), who is quiet and shy, just show up and talk to Derice. They all trip and end up not making the qualifier. Desperate, Derice finds washed up bobsledder Irving "Irv" Blitzer (John Candy). This was the first part where we got to see some emotion. I thought that the movie, for the most part, blended comedy and emotion very well.
Irv doesn't want to help Derice and Sanka, and we get a pretty cheesy scene which made me realize something: the comedy isn't really that clever, but it is really well-timed. Derice tells Irv that Irv knew his father, and Irv reluctantly agrees to help him. A bunch of Jamaicans are assembled and Irv shows them a video of bobsledding, which is super funny, because of the ridiculous amount of crashes and fails. Everyone leaves except for Sanka, and then Yul and Junior walk in and are forced onto the team. I thought that that was ridiculously predictable and a bad way to get the team together, which was disappointing.
We start training for bobsledding, which is pretty funny. While the team is training, Irv Blitzer continuously tries to get them better, but John Candy does not fit this role. Compared to some of the other great coaching performances (Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans, Burgess Meredith in Rocky), Candy isn't even in the same orbit as them. He is not convincing as an athlete or a coach, and it was not a good casting decision by the crew.
Irv tries to go get funding for the team, and the team does, too. This was one of the strangest scenes in the movie, as we get a montage of a bunch of Jamaican businessmen laughing at the idea of a bobsled team. The laughing is obviously lip-dubbed, and it is terrible. The team eventually gets the funding from Junior selling his car, and they all go to Canada. Unused to the cold, Sanka bundles up with this strange use of time-lapse that is randomly plopped in the middle of the movie.
They start getting ready to bobsled, and it was at this point I realized that the film had a massive plot hole: Why was Derice training for track if it was the Winter Olympics? To me, that didn't make sense, and it was never answered, so that goes as a strike against the movie. While training, Derice watches the Swiss team train. There is a full minute of the bobsled course entirely in slow-mo, which does not work at all. It looks really dumb and not fun to watch, so thankfully it doesn't happen again.
The team has a couple of training sessions on the course, and I realized that I wish they had explored the fish-out-of-water comedy more in the movie. We get that little bit when the team doesn't want to go outside because of the cold, but then it just skips to the training bits and doesn't explore Jamaicans in Canada. I thought that that would've made an already funny movie even funnier.
The first trial run happens with Sanka screaming throughout the entire thing, and that made me crack up. Like I said, the comedy isn't clever, but it is well-timed. We get a couple of subplots revisited, most notably Irv's backstory. That was an interesting idea to touch on, and it was a compelling little side note that I enjoyed quite a bit. Junior's daddy issues also worked for me, as it gave the character a good redemption and some nice depth.
They all go to a bar and a fight breaks out between the Jamaicans and the Germans. This had nice character moments for Yul and Junior. Yul becomes a team player, and Junior sticks up for himself. After the fight, they actually prepare for the qualifier. We get a training montage, which is possibly my favorite part of the movie. Sanka is hilarious throughout, and it makes it much better.
They complete the qualifier and do qualify for the Olympics, but they are disqualified whilst celebrating. The disqualification was a gut-punch, but I didn't really understand why the Alliance disqualified them. Irv interrupts an alliance meeting and yells at Kurt, his old coach, to let the team back in, because Kurt's vendetta is with Irv because of his cheating. Irv gets a phone call that the team is back in the Olympics, which was a really feel-good moment, even though you knew it was coming.
The Olympics begin, and Jamaica does terrible in the first round. Nobody is happy, and it ends up being Sanka who gives the motivational speech. I was not a fan of this, because sentiment felt out of character for Sanka, who is the comic relief throughout the movie. Junior's father shows up to take him home, because he doesn't want him bobsledding, and Junior stands up for himself.
They do well in the second round, and they head to the third round with a chance to beat the best time. They start off fantastic and are heading toward the finish line on their way to victory. However, their old sled breaks apart and they flip. The four men get up and carry their sled on their shoulders to the finish line. All the storylines and conflicts paid off in this powerful scene: Junior's father is there, rooting him on, Kurt claps the team to the finish line, and the Germans shake hands with Derice and Irv. The ending is fantastic, and sums up the movie perfectly.
Cool Runnings has some predictable and cheesy moments and sometimes uses slow-mo and montages in the wrong places, but it benefits from heartfelt character moments and some fun comedy.
I will give it a Savory rating. Age range is 5+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad)
Fun Factor: 8/10
Directed by Jon Turteltaub
Rated PG for mild language and mild thematic elements
Released on October 1, 1993
1 hour and 38 minutes
Leon Robinson as Derice Bannock
Doug E. Doug as Sanka Coffie
Rawle D. Lewis as Junior Bevil
John Candy as Irv Blitzer
Malik Yoba as Yul Brenner