Cool Runnings (1993)

Cold? I’m freezing my royal Rastafarian nay-nays off!

Synopsis

Based (quite loosely) on the real life story of the first Jamaican bobsled team, Cool Runnings follows the story of Derice Bannock (Leon Robinson), a sprinter whose Olympic dreams were cut short by an unfortunate accident in the Jamaican national qualifier. Together with his best friend Sanka Coffie (Doug E. Doug), Jamaica’s best (and loudest) boxcar driver, he sets out to put together the tiny island’s first ever bobsled team. With the help of a disgraced American bobsled champion (John Candy) and two sprinting rivals (Malik Yoba and Rawle D. Lewis), Darice heads to Calgary to melt the icy track of the Olympics with Jamaican heat.

Why We Love It

As you may have discovered last week with my write-up of Miracle, I’ve got a thing for great Olympic stories. In my mind, there are few greater stories in sport than those that surround the Olypmics. And while there aren’t as many great stories associated with the winter games as there are the summer games, there are at least two. Miracle tells one, Cool Runnings tells the other. It does it in a very loose fashion, unloading truckloads of fiction on the true story of the Jamaican bobsled team. But it also does so in a pretty entertaining fashion. Entertaining for a schlocky Disney movie, that is.

It is easy to see how a director like John Turtletaub could go from making movies like this and 1992′s 3 Ninjas to the National Treasure franchise. He has mastered the art of taking relatively bad dialog, incredibly hammy stories and actors who are actually named Doug E. Doug and turning out a film that moves fast and gets laughs. Before he was making Nic Cage near-tolerable in comedy, he was combining John Candy (RIP) with every possible Jamaican cultural cliché possible. And it’s a lot of fun. Why? Because even though this film goes from act one to act two in 8.4 seconds and glosses over any substantial pre-bobsledding plot detail (are we really to believe that these guys just got in a sled for the first time and qualified?), he gets one thing right. When it gets down to the emotional core of the film, the great climax accident and triumphant walk of the Jamaicans to the finish line in the Olympics, it is meaningful and moving. Meaningful and moving in a purely Disney Channel way, but successful nonetheless. Every bit of the film’s silliness up to this point seems relevant to the plight of the team. And even though these characters aren’t real, the crash is authentic footage from the 1988 Olympic games, and the shot of their helmets skidding along the side of the bobsled track is gut-wrenching, making their walk to the finish line that much more triumphant.

Moment We Fell In Love

The moment I discussed above, naturally. Perhaps I fell in love, at age 10, with the 47 montages that lead up to the triumphant finish. This entire movie is simply a series of montages, most of which are set to the incessant chanting of Doug E. Doug. “‘Nuff people say, you know they can’t believe,” he says, dancing on the streets. “Jamaica, we have a bobsled team.” At such a young age, I was infected by this rhyme scheme.

Final Thoughts

There are questions that I’m left with after viewing this film almost 17 years after seeing it for the first time. One, since when has bobsled been such a scrappy sport. Bar fights in Canadian cowboy bars? That unnecessarily angry, dickish East German bobsled driver played by The Commish star Peter Outerbridge? Who knew that bobsledders could be so hostile? Two, the winter Olympics are racist. I’m convinced that the moment the Jamaican’s first roll their sled out in front of the other teams, the stunned silence has nothing to do with seeing a team from Jamaica. Those other bobsledders clearly just don’t understand the concept of black people. It’s terrible. Shame on you, world. Even through the lens of Disney, we can see your terrible xenophobia.

Take it for what it’s worth, but I have long been a lover of the cheap, silly story of Cool Runnings. It rides fast and loose around the cinematic track, but the men in the sled ultimately capture our hearts. The performances are fun, and director John Turtletaub gets those fateful final moments right, leaving us with a triumphant, entertaining story of Winter Olympic glory. Which is about as rare as the Jamaican bobsled team.

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