A funny thing happened along the way to writing today’s installment of 73 Sports Movies in 73 Days, as I told a friend that I was watching the 1993 Disney comedy Cool Runnings and he responded, “Oh, the guy who wrote that movie just did an AMA on Reddit. You should probably read that.” So I cleaned my good monocle and began reading, and wouldn’t you know it – Tommy Swerdlow was high on heroin when he wrote Cool Runnings.
Not only that, Swerdlow was also chasing the dragon when he wrote Little Giants as well. This guy is a lot like Roy Shelton – the writer of White Men Can’t Jump and a number of the best sports movies ever made – if Roy Shelton had been shooting up when he paired Billy Hoyle and Sidney Deane. But Swerdlow claims that he’s clean now, as he’s pushing his own independent film, and that’s good, because I don’t like when people are addicted to heroin.
So anyway, let’s talk about the Jamaican bobsled team.
Let’s Talk About John Candy For A Second
Before we get into this film, which I have always loved as one of the best examples of a “perfect” sports movie, I want to praise the career of John Candy, because people should still talk about him as much as possible for being one of the funniest and most charismatic actors to have ever lived. Towards the end of his life (and subsequently his career), Candy wasn’t necessarily making the best movies – Wagons East… yeesh – but he always had a way of being the most charming and funny part of any movie, even if it was awful.
That’s why I’ve always considered Cool Runnings to be his last movie, because it was such a warm, lighthearted film with very few flaws, and it was indicative of the kind of guy that he always seemed to be, right down to the lasagna meal that he cooked for his assistants on the night that he passed away. I get a little choked up any time I watch any of Candy’s movies. Yes, even Hot to Trot.
You Were Saying Something About A “Perfect” Sports Movie?
Yes, thanks for reminding me. Before you go getting all crazy like, “I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS GUY THINKS COOL RUNNINGS IS A PERFECT MOVIE!” settle yourself down, mon. When it comes to the idea of a “perfect” movie in general, I don’t know what that is. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a perfect movie in my entire life, other than possibly Big Trouble in Little China, which is the greatest film ever made.
However, a sports movie that is produced for the sake of being a feel-good time that sends everyone out of the theater with a smile, especially one made by Disney, should follow a very specific checklist of plot devices in order to be successful. In fact, if you’re an aspiring screenwriter or filmmaker, go ahead and print this list out and hold on to it for when you’re eventually asked to remake The Mighty Ducks or Rookie of the Year, because you know that sh*t’s gonna happen eventually.
The Humiliated Former Star Athlete Sent Into Exile
This character can be a number of things – a drunk, burnout, has-been, deadbeat, etc. – but the common theme is that he was once a god among men and adored by an entire nation, only to have it all ripped away from him because of his own careless, deplorable behavior (think of that episode of Fresh Prince when it was revealed that Jeffrey Butler cheated in a foot race by taking a cab).
In this case, Candy played Irv Blitzer, who was a former bobsledding gold medalist scorned for and humiliated by his own cheating ways, self-cast into exile in the one place that nobody will ever recognize him – Jamaica.
The Talented But Lost Underdogs That Need His Help
Derice came so close to making it to the Summer Olympics as a 100m runner, but he was tripped by Junior, who also tripped Yul. Naturally, all three of them end up on this new bobsled team together, even though Junior should have been fed to sharks, and they’re joined by a guy named Sanka Coffie. I have never, ever understood the names in this movie, by the way.
Anyway, they need Irv’s help if they’re ever going to fulfill their dreams of winning gold medals, and especially if Yul is going to achieve his goal of living in Buckingham Palace. Hey, maybe he will marry the Queen of England, Sanka. Go get your palace, Yul.
The Impossible Goal That No One Could Ever Achieve
Sanka is the “best push-cart racer in all of Jamaica” so he’s the first guy that Derice goes to in trying to fulfill his absurd dream of becoming a bobsled racer. The only problem, as Sanka points out, is that there’s no ice in Jamaica. How on Earth could a team of guys from a tropical island that have only ever seen ice in their drinks think they could compete in a sport that is dominated by people who actually live in cold weather? That’s just insane.
The Poor Team Doesn’t Have The Money To Get To The Big Game
Just like the East Compton cheerleaders in Bring it On, the Jamaican bobsled team doesn’t have the money to travel to Canada for the Winter Olympics, and Irv’s poor ass certainly can’t help. Of course that leads to some off-the-wall ideas for fundraisers and none of them work. Fortunately, Junior is the one athlete that comes from wealth, so he sells his expensive car to get the money, and now I’m glad that he wasn’t fed to sharks. But even after they get to Canada, they still have the crappiest gear and most broken down sled. That’s just the way it works.
The Ridiculous Fish-Out-Of-Water Training
Of course, with the impossible goal comes the remarkable training that these guys just aren’t used to. I mean, they have to run in the snow! And they need to learn how to drive a push cart on ice, because all these guys know is dirt and sun. Heck, they can’t even do pull-ups without Coach Irv helping them.
The Foreign Villains Who Will Not Accept Your Kind
Damn you, Josef and the East Germans! Why do you have to be so afraid of that which you do not know? I have a feeling that they’ll learn their own important lessons in the end.
Playing It By The Rules
In his quest to become a gold medalist in bobsledding, Derice has chosen the Swiss as his models of a winning franchise. They’re like the St. Louis Cardinals of the bobsled, in that they’re the classiest and most intelligent of the countries competing. But just doing what the other guys do never works. That’s why the Jamaicans just can’t seem to get it together.
The All Out Brawl With The Villains
Of course things with the East Germans eventually come to a head, and Yul forces to Junior to grow some balls and confront their new nemeses. That leads to the typical sports movie bar brawl, and they even went the whole nine yards here and made sure that it was in a country bar.
I hate Josef so much. SO MUCH.
I hate that I couldn’t find the video for this, but among the several inspirational moments of Cool Runnings, the part where Irv tells his old coach and current judge, Kurt, to go F himself for his petty grudge is pretty fantastic.
Come on, Kurt, what you’re doing here is wrong, and you know it! Now if this is about you and me, let’s lay it all down now. All right, sixteen years ago, I made the biggest mistake of my life: I cheated. I was stupid. I embarrassed myself, I embarrassed my country, my friends, my family, my teammates and my coach.
Hey, if it’s revenge you want, take it. Go ahead, disqualify me, banish me! Do whatever you want, but do it to me! It was me who let you down, Kurt! It wasn’t my guys! They’ve done everything you’ve asked of them! And they did it with all of you laughing in their face.
Hey, it doesn’t matter tomorrow if they come in first or fiftieth. Those guys have earned the right to walk into that stadium and wave their nation’s flag. That’s the single greatest honor an athlete can ever have. That’s what the Olympics are all about. Sixteen years ago I forgot that. Don’t you go and do the same.
You tell ‘em, Irv!
Discovering The Real You
Naturally, once they realize that just doing what the other guys are doing doesn’t work for them, the Jamaicans do it their own way and suddenly become super-fast and instant contenders. Nothing can stop them now, except, of course, for something bad that will probably happen.
The Underdogs Become The Fan Favorites
Once they qualify for the finals, the Jamaicans are suddenly fan favorites, as someone even had time to make t-shirts and sell them to everyone from random fans to even the announcers. Everyone loves the guys who don’t belong in cold weather!
Either The Absolute Victory Or Simply The Moral Victory
Sure, the Jamaicans didn’t cross the finish line and capture the world record. Sure, their busted sled was a metaphor for their dreams and hearts. And sure, they just proved the East Germans right that they didn’t belong. But by getting up and carrying their sled to the finish line, they proved that they could do what they set out to do, regardless of what anyone thought.
And because of that… they got a slow clap. That’s more important than any gold medal.
Bonus: TMZ almost makes me wish that Cool Runnings had never been made. Almost.