Russia might be banned from the Winter Olympics, but…
Wearing its heart on its sleeve like an Olympic logo, COOL RUNNINGS reminds us that the only thing harder to swallow than one actor fakin’ Jamaican is four. Not even a spoonful of John Candy can help that medicine go down. Loosely based on the island’s unlikely first national bobsled team, the film glides along like any other shaggy underdog sports film from Disney. (I’m looking at you, MIGHTY DUCKS!)
Upon failing to qualify for the 1988 Summer Olympics, sprinter Derice Bannock (Leon) is inspired to approach disgraced former Olympian Irv Blitzer (John Candy) and his push cart racer friend Sanka Coffee (Doug E. Doug) into a bobsled team. For reals. Malik Yoba and Rawle D. Lewis round out the crew. After a whole lot of fundraising and training montages, the upstarts finally arrive at the qualifiers in Calgary — and it turns out Canada is cold! Oh snap!
I Want Candy!
So goes the flat comedy of COOL RUNNINGS. Hopes of John Candy lifting it out of the ‘90s family film dump get upstaged by Doug E. Doug, who gives new meaning to “doping.” Throughout, Mr. Doug seems to be auditioning to replace one of the hammier Wayanses, unsuccesfully. Candy, in his third to last film (and final released during his lifetime), comes off a lot like Irv, going through the motions and pining for past glory. You couldn’t hope for a better heir apparent to Walter Matthau in THE BAD NEWS BEARS, but alas, Candy just looks tired.
Released in 1993 but set in 1988, historical context turns out to be the film’s subtle charm. In its first ever winter games, Jamaica’s biggest bullies are the East Germans, who unknowingly compete for the last time. Following reunification in 1990, only a single German team would compete.
The only thing that could’ve made that revenge sweeter is if one of the East Germans were played by William Zabka. Sweep the leg, Johann!