Cool Runnings (1993) — John Candy’s feel-good swan song

“Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme! Get on up, its bobsled time! Cool Runnings!”

Justin’s rating: Better than its sequel, Lukewarm Joggings

Justin’s review: I’m sure that I’m not alone in harboring warm, dorky feelings for Cool Runnings. Admitting so would’ve probably gotten me wedgied in my high school at the time, but this wholesome, light-hearted sports movie gave me a few good laughs, made me feel good, and convinced me to buy the soundtrack to listen to for the next few years of my life.

Seriously, 16-year-old Justin had so many strange soundtracks on cassette tape. Don’t even ask.

Very, very, very, so very loosely based on the true story of the first Jamaican bobsled team performing in the 1988 Winter Olympics, Cool Runnings fuses a Disney-style inspirational retelling with a reggae beat. I think about a third of the appeal of this movie at the time was the fact that pretty much nobody knew much about Jamaican culture, so it had that novelty going for it.

After being disqualified for the Jamaican Olympic sprinting team, Derice (Leon) decides to get in by a rather unorthodox method: to form the country’s first-ever bobsled team and enter into the ’88 games. He pulls together his friend Sanka (Doug E. Doug), a brawny dude named Yul (Malik Yoba), and gawky rich kid Junior (Rawle D. Lewis), even though the whole idea is a desperate joke. And to coach them, Derice enlists the help of Irving Blitzer (John Candy), a disgraced bobsled gold medal winner who’s now slumming on the island.

From here on, the script — and jokes — pretty much write themselves. There’s a lot of scoffing and stacked odds and jokes about islanders not being naturally inclined to a winter sport. There’s a training montage, some inspirational speeches, plenty of setbacks, and a fist-pumping sports finale.

But just because you can see where it’s all going, it doesn’t make the ride any less enjoyable. Cool Runnings’ main strengths are very likable characters with silly names (Sanka Coffie and Yul Brenner, why not), easy jokes that appeal to my inner-16-year-old, and — as I said before — a peppy soundtrack.

I also want to praise the fact that this movie, like the first Rocky, isn’t really about victory-above-all-else. The guys in Cool Runnings fail more often than not, but they learn an important lesson about self-worth, dignity, and going the distance even so. That’s kind of deep for a family sports flick.

Cool Runnings also served as a wonderful swan song to John Candy’s career. He’s fine here, but not really the comedic (or even dramatic) center. It was the last movie released before he died in 1994, and it was a legitimate hit that went a long way to paving over his otherwise shaky film run in the ’90s. There’s dignity here that Wagons East absolutely lacked.

This isn’t a movie you’ll hold up as a masterpiece. After all, it’s a lightweight comedy and a lightweight sports drama. But it is a movie that’ll please a wide crowd, especially one full of people who don’t mind a heaping dose of ’90s Disney cheese.

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