Yes, Jamaica did send a bobsled team to the Winter Olympic Games in 1988 in the frozen climes of Calgary, Canada. No, it didn't win a medal, and yes, it most likely did attract a lot more media attention than whatever countries' athletes did.
So much so that the Disney dynasty decided to make a movie about it? No.
Cool Runnings, the feature film at this weekend's Cinema Sunday showing at the Reichhold Center for the Arts, is about four Jamaicans who evolve into a bobsled team that goes to the Olympics, but the 1993 movie isn't so much "based on" the realities of five years earlier as "inspired by" the Caribbean incursion into the cold-weather sport.
(It's worth remembering that V.I. athletes have represented the territory in winter sports, too, in bobsled and luge at three recent Winter Olympic Games. The Señor Pizza shop in Red Hook was started by four St. Thomas teenagers to raise the funds they needed to compete in Japan, and three of them still run the business.)
The storyline of Cool Runnings is pure island-style slapstick: Jamaican track athlete Derice Bannock, played by Leon, fails to qualify for the 100-yard (meter, whatever) sprint in national Olympic competition. Determined to go for some sort of gold, he hears about an expatriate American living in Jamaica whose bobsled team won a gold medal years earlier then had it taken away for cheating. Bannock looks up the guy, Iwrin "Irv" Blitzer, played by John Candy, and eventually Irv agrees to coach the a-borning island bobsledders.
Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme, get on board, it's bobsled time. . .
Internet reviewer James Berardinelli complains of "all the liberties that Cool Runnings has taken with Oympic history" to the extent that "little of reality remains," and whines that the film "could have presented a fresh look at an unusual sport." The redoubtable Roger Ebert writes that "Cool Runnings could have been a subversive movie — undermining the carefully controlled imagery of the Olympics, which are only marginally less a retail business than, say, the Chicago Bulls. But the movie has no such ambition."
The other problem the reviewers have is that the movie is so much like so many other David vs. Goliah family-oriented sports films.
Precisely, on both counts.
The teaching points for impressionable youth in this film, rated PG (for a dirty word or two, it seems, as there's no sex or nudity and nothing more violent than a fist fight and a bobsled crash), are there. But they're secondary to the comic capers of four cool dudes operating out of their element in more ways than one and both learning and proving a thing or two in the process.
Back to the story line, then: Derice goes looking for three more potential bobsledders and connects with his best buddy, Sanka Coffie (Doug E. Doug), whose high energy seems anything but caffeine-free; Junior Bevil (Rawle D. Lewis), a gregarious guy with a self-esteem problem; and, Lord love him, Yul Brenner (Malik Yoba), a young man at war with the world.
After a number of false starts, the team building begins, then things start to go seriously wrong, then when they look really bleak, determination sets in and success becomes an attainable goal. After another setback, the team finally makes it to Canada, where everything goes wrong but somehow turns out right. The audience, eagerly engaged, gets plenty of opportunity to cheer and boo and maybe shed a tear or two.
Ebert, having said more or less the same thing, adds: "Now lest you think that I have just given away the entire plot of Cool Runnings, let me assure you that what I have described is not this movie but virtually every movie of its genre."
Anyhow, you still don't know if they win a medal (unless you've seen the film before). Well, as they say, "A gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you're not good enough without it, you will never be good enough with it."
The film was directed by Jon Turteltaub, who went on to direct Phenomenon with John Travolta and While You Were Sleeping.
Showtime at the Reichhold Center is 7:30 p.m., rain or shine. The big screen is up on stage and nearly 400 patrons can be accommodated in the covered seating. Admission is $5 for all ages. Gates open at 7 p.m., and popcorn, candy and soft drinks are sold inside.
Last week's "Cinema Sundays" offering, "The Red Violin," had to be canceled because the 35mm film didn't arrive in time. If scheduling allows, it will be shown at the end of the series next March.


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