The reason I’m hardly likely to be the only reviewer to say “Eddie the Eagle” is “Rudy” on the ski slopes is because “Eddie the Eagle” IS “Rudy” on the ski slopes.
With more than a dash of “Cool Runnings” to boot.
“Rudy,” of course, was a fictionalized, unapologetically sentimental, undeniably inspirational story about an undersized, overachieving, irritatingly upbeat underdog who was doggedly determined to make the Notre Dame football team and perhaps even get into a game, even though everyone from his own father to his peers to his coaches told him he was a dreamer and it would never happen.
“Eddie the Eagle” is a fictionalized, unapologetically sentimental, undeniably inspirational story about an undersized, overachieving, irritatingly upbeat underdog who was doggedly determined to make the British Olympics as a ski jumper, even though everyone from his own father to his peers to Olympic officials told him he was a dreamer and it was never going to happen.
Director Dexter Fletcher paints Eddie’s story in broad, bold strokes, never missing an opportunity to milk a suspenseful dramatic turn or go for the relatively easy laugh — but it’s a style well-suited to this wonderfully ridiculous story.
Taron Egerton (“Kingsman: The Secret Service”) gives a winning performance as one Michael “Eddie” Edwards, an irrepressible sort with oversized glasses that never seem to quite fit on his face, a mustache accurate to the 1980s setting — and the bounce-back capabilities of one of those wobble punching bags with the weighted bottoms.
After failing to make the British downhill skiing team, Eddie sets his sights on ski jumping, even though he has zero experience in the sport and the Brits didn’t even have a ski jumping team. Through a quirk in the rulebook, if Eddie lands a minimum-qualifying jump in a sanctioned meet, boom: He’s an Olympian! When Eddie does just that, he’s off to Germany to train for the 1988 Calgary Olympics, which are just a few months away.
The hierarchy of the staid British Olympic Association is mortified by the bumbling Eddie, and they try to ban him from competing, but it’s out of their hands. World-class jumpers from Finland and other countries with rich ski-jumping legacies have been doing this since they were children — and Eddie thinks he can figure it out in a few weeks? It’s practically a suicide mission.
Enter Hugh Jackman as Bronson Peary (a wholly fictional creation), who could have been the greatest ski jumper of all time back in the day were it not for his selfishness and his lack of respect for the sport. Now Bronson’s a hard-drinking, crusty, washed-up ski bum — but wouldn’t you know it, he finally breaks down and agrees to coach Eddie, who of course was never going to take no for an answer.
Jackman’s still a dashing leading man and it’s a bit of a stretch to buy him as broken-down has-been, but he and Egerton have a warm father-son chemistry that plays well.
Christopher Walken shows up out of nowhere as Bronson’s former coach, a legend who literally wrote the book on ski jumping. It’s not clear if Walken thinks he’s in a comedy or he’s just having fun hamming it up, but either way it’s a hilarious cameo. (Even Walken’s face on the cover of that book produces a hearty laugh.)
The final act of “Eddie the Eagle” is set at the Calgary Games, where the unknown Eddie became an instant sensation and earned the “Eagle” nickname after flapping his arms about like a bird after sticking one landing. (Jim Broadbent is hilarious as a British sports announcer who is greatly amused and quite impressed by Eddie’s fortitude.)
Nobody thought for even a second Eddie could actually compete for a medal. But Eddie’s brave and crazy quest to jump from 90 meters, even though a fall could have caused serious injury or even death, is the stuff of inspirational sports movies.
Director Fletcher does a fine job of mixing stunt work, CGI and close-ups and medium shots of actors, sometimes showing the jumps from their point of view. We feel as if we’re soaring with Eddie. Some of the stuff about Eddie trying to earn the respect of his father, and Bronson seeking the approval of HIS father figure, goes over the top, around the bend and over the top again.
Still, you couldn’t resist “Rudy” and you’re not going to be able to resist “Eddie the Eagle.” These guys are champions.
20th Century Fox presents a film directed by Dexter Fletcher and written by Sean Macaulay. Running time: 105 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for some suggestive material, partial nudity and smoking). Opens Friday at local theaters.