Pros:The 5 leads, the music, the ending
Cons:that the fine actors have not done more in the decade since this film
The Bottom Line: r-e-s-p-e-c-t is not an easy goal to attain
When I caught Jon Turteltaub's 1993 Disney movie "Cool Running" years ago on a motel tv, the only actor in it whom I recognized (and him barely) was John Candy. I thought it was a very entertaining movie about improbable triumph, in this instance, three sprinters who get tangled up and don't qualify for the Jamaican 1988 Olympic team becoming a bobsled team (joined by the best island's pushcart driver who is also fresh from a collision disaster). Now I recognize the two black leads: the gifted but underutilized Leon (David Ruffin in "The Temptations" and Little Richard in tv biopics) as Derice, the leader of the team. and Doug E. Doug (Hangin' with the Homeboys, and Cosby) as Sanka, the mouthy cut-up. The tough bald sprinter and the tentative rich kid, Malik Yobe and Rawlie D. Lewis, have not flourished, and John Candy died, but together they made one of the greatest feel-good movies, one that does not pull punches. (OK, the rapport of the fat white coach and the lean Jamaicans might seem too easy, but it's hard to dislike John Candy, and it's hard to dislike the Team Jamaica fighting for respect in a rickety borrowed sled. And the father-son domination "drama" is a bit pat.)
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There is some broad comedy in the tropical lads' disovery of ice, snow, and -25 temperatures in Calgary. And in their fund-raising that includes a kissing booth. John Candy makes a passionate, dramatic speech. (Would that any of our presidents could make so compelling a case!) There are major obstacles, including the withering contempt of the champions (the Swiss and the East Germans) and an (American) official who had been a team-mate of the coach when he was an Olympic champion bobsledder himself. Plus an infectiously joyous, quasi-reggae soundtrack.
Although I could not make it through "Rocky" and did not try any of its sequels, I am something of a soft touch for the genre of written-off misfits hunkering down, working hard, and earning respect (Billy Elliot, Flashdance, Waterboys, Jamie Fox in Any Given Sunday) going after impossible dreams of top-flight performance--and usually achieving what their coach once had or almost had or dreamed of having. "Cool Runnings" has one of the best endings in this genre. And it's the best Olympic movie since Leni Riefenstahl's documentary of the 1936 Olympics. (BTW, it does include some documentary footage of bobsledding from the 1988 winter games.)
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