One week after Jesse Owens' biopic stumbled at the starting blocks, a decidedly less Olympian athlete picks up the baton.
Eddie the Eagle is a lot like its subject: Eddie Edwards, an ungainly Englishman who in 1988 became Great Britain's first Olympic ski jumper. Like this movie about him, Edwards wasn't especially good at what he was doing but his spirit was irresistible, a joke insisting upon being taken seriously.
Edwards is portrayed by Taron Egerton, thicker and dimmer than in his breakout turn in last year's spry spy caper Kingsman: The Secret Service. Egerton goes full-on sad sack here, setting his jaw with uncertainty, poking Coke bottle eyeglasses on his nose. It's slightly cartoonish, but maybe that's Edwards.
Egerton's calculated awkwardness is balanced by Hugh Jackman's one-man stampede of masculinity, playing Edwards' coach Bronson Peary. The character is fictional, as the real Edwards says much of Eddie the Eagle is.
Bronson's alcoholism and ski jumping regrets hijack much of the movie, as Jackman's stardom demands. While Eddie's jumps are conventionally filmed, Jackman gets the full-bore CGI tracking shot, flicking a lit cigarette into the lens in mid-air, ski slope sexy.
Director Dexter Fletcher does a serviceable job of getting the massaged facts straight. Eddie the Eagle is never a chore to watch but neither is it a challenge. These heartstrings have been plucked before. The script is peppered with on-the-nose comparisons to previous underdogs, especially the bobsled shenanigans of Cool Runnings and Billy Elliot's yearning. "Dad, it's not like I'm taking up ballet," Eddie pleads as a boy.
Certainly the ski jumping backdrop offers a few fresh images, different from the usual downhill racing in movies. On television the sport's dangers aren't as vivid; the heights and speed are magnified on a theater screen. And when our appealing hero is relatively poor at jumping, tension isn't a problem.
Much of Eddie the Eagle is transparently packaged for mass consumption, from Bronson's risque advice involving Bo Derek, to musical training montages over obvious pop songs like You Make My Dreams Come True. There's bullying by competitors for easy empathy, a romantic distraction for Jackman, and a supportive Mom subtext inspiring the movie's ad campaign.
There's even Christopher Walken playing Bronson's former coach. Regrettably, Walken doesn't appear on skis — that would be ... weird — but his face on a coaching memoir's cover gets an unintended chuckle each time it's shown.
Somehow, the loose ends fit together, as rag-tag plucky as Eddie himself. What Eddie the Eagle has that last week's more historically accurate Race didn't is charm to spare, especially in Egerton's performance. Neither movie is gold medal material, but in the race for entertainment, Eddie beats Jesse by a mile.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.