All right, it is “Sports Month” here at the JOE-DOWN, where we will review sports movies. Why? Because it is summer, and I associate summertime with sports. And for the second installment of this theme for the month, Brown picked “Cool Runnings.”
The Movie: “Cool Runnings”
Starring: Leon, Doug E. Doug, John Candy
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) When a Jamaican sprinter is disqualified from the Olympic Games, he enlists the help of a dishonored coach to start the first Jamaican Bobsled Team.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 75 percent
Brown: Did you hear, Froemming? Jamaica, they got a bobsled team? Well, you do now.
After watching the all-too-real world of professional wrestling last week in the murder-rific “No Holds Barred,” we go to the tried-and-true Disney sports formula of the lovable losers in “Cool Runnings.”
This is one of those movies where I’m chastised by most of my friends for never seeing it. Maybe I came across it in school when a teacher had a sick day, but I’ve certainly never finished it and I sure as hell don’t remember it.
So because I beg for acceptance, much like the Jamaican Bobsled Team, I figured Sports Month was the perfect time to visit this movie, based (very, very loosely) on a real story.
What was your experience with this one before the JOE-DOWN, Froemming? Froemming?!
Froemming, ya dead?!
Froemming: I probably watched this film in the theater when it came out, and I saw it too many times to count in elementary school, for whatever reason. This, “Newsies” and “The Mighty Ducks” seemed to be my teachers’ go-to when they didn’t feel like actually teaching anything.
I am surprised you managed to not see this film until now. It, it just doesn’t make sense to me. You probably went to an elementary school where teachers actually taught things.
So Brown, why do you start us off on the third to last film John Candy ever made!
Brown: Before this movie even begins, I have two things in the credits that blew me away.
First: Our lead actor. The credits open with “Starring: Leon.” Look, you better be a damned superstar if you have the balls to go by one name. Prince. Pele. Names that don’t start with P. Madonna. You get the point. Yet, this is probably Leon’s biggest movie besides the TV movie for “The Temptations.”
Froemming: I just want to say here I was vaguely troubled by our lead in Leon because he looked familiar. Then it dawned on me: Leon played Jefferson Keane in HBO’s “Oz.” So the whole time watching this, I envisioned Derice Bannock’s future somehow ends with him in an experimental unit called Emerald City at the Oswald State Correctional Facility. Let’s just say things are pretty rough there.
Brown: Then, we get to the man who made the musical score for the film: Hans Zimmer.
This dude did the epic soundtracks for movies like “Pirates of the Caribbean” and all the Christopher Nolan Batman movies. Dude won an Academy Award for “The Lion King” two years after this movie came out.
What’s the soundtrack to this one? A lot of (REDACTED) steel drums because JAMAICA! I mean, guy has to get his start somewhere but this shocked the hell out of me.
Then we are greeted by Froemming’s prison nightmare (apparently) with Derice Bannock, who seems to be an All-
American Jamican boy running around the landscape, preparing for the 100-meter dash in the upcoming Olympic trials. I’m not 100 percent sure about the early ‘90s, but Jamaica is currently a premier sprinting nation, with Usain Bolt being the fastest man alive and all.
Froemming: We also meet Derice’s friend (and alleged comic relief in this film) Sanka Coffie, who tricks children into building push carts that he races and seems to wear nothing but shirts related to Tough Gong Records. We see Derice also has a wife and whatnot, but she is pretty much glossed over in this film for reasons?. But the big event is the upcoming race, something he has been preparing for all his life for his chance to race in the Olympics.
Brown: Between this movie and “Little Rascals,” the early ‘90s had a certain love for cart races. Also, did it bum you out as much as it did me when Sanka destroyed someone’s home with a push cart? Oh underdeveloped countries, we’re laughing at you.
So it’s time for the 100, which is the last event of the day (false: at track meets, it’s usually the 4×400 relay). And at the starting line with Derice are two other favorites in the jacked-up Yul Brenner and Junior Bevil, the prototypical rich kid whose name probably replaced Adam Banks’ in a leftover “Mighty Ducks” script when Disney made this. The top four will represent Jamaica in the upcoming Summer Olympics.
The three are pulling away from the pack when DRAMA! As Junior tries to fight for the lead, he trips and inadvertently takes down Derice and Yul, costing all three their Olympic hopes for four more years.
Dem’s the breaks, kids. You ain’t going to Seoul. Good luck trying to get to Barcelona in 1992, right?
Froemming: I thought it was odd they named a Jamaican character after Russian actor, Yul Brynner. That was just so weird to me.
Derice is not taking this bump in the road lying down. He tries, but fails, to get another chance to race. He can’t just wait four years because some dolt got clumsy on the track. But alas, there is nothing he can do.
Until he sees a photo of his father with a white guy who looks nothing like John Candy, but we are told that is him, named Irving “Irv” Blitzer, a two-time gold medal winner who came to the island to convince Derice’s father to start a Jamaican bobsled team.
This is Derice’s chance to get into the Olympics. Despite the fact he has never bobsledded before, never seen snow or ice and all that, he is gungho on getting a team started for the winter Olympics. He asks his best friend Sanka to join because he has experience in pushing carts, which must be the same as pushing a bobsled.
Brown: Derice says that Sanka is the best push cart driver on the island. This guy drove a cart into a person’s hut! That is not good piloting!
But, sure, the movie demands it. Let’s go find Irv, who has become a degenerate bookie who destroys radios with the wimpiest swings of a pool cue ever.
After multiple attempts and name-dropping his father to Irv, Derice gets Irv to begrudgingly agree to coach a bobsled team… if they can find two more bobsledders.
Problem with this: There is two bobsled events in the Winter Olympics: Four-man and TWO-MAN. They had enough, but that doesn’t fill a 90-minute movie, so let’s try to recruit some other guys.
How do they attempt this? By having a bunch of people show up in a community center and watch a film reel called “Bobsledder Killed,” filled with gruesome crashes.
Not, exactly a good sales pitch as everyone empties out before the film is even finished. This was Irv trying to sabotage this idea, right? You kind of did ruin his afternoon of pool and Red Stripe beer, Derice.
Froemming: I mean, they almost killed Irv via heart attack when they popped out of that bathroom stall trying to convince him to coach their team. I would sabotage this if I were Irv as well.
And during the video, Irv explains that bones don’t break in a bobsled, they shatter, which I took as the icing on the cake of his plan to not coach the team. But alas, Yul and Junior show up, both wanting their chance to go to the Olympics, thus creating a four-person team rife with drama from Junior falling and ruining their chances at the summer games.
So we see our first training montage, because it isn’t a sports movie with out a (REDACTED) montage.
Brown: We also know the motivations for all four men to work together: Derice to follow in his father’s footsteps and win an Olympic medal; Sanka because he’s a good friend, I guess; Junior because he feels like he owes Derice and Yul. And then, there’s Yul, who wants to leave the isle of Jamaica. And he actually says he will stay in Canada (the setting for the 1988 Winter Olympics. Calgary, to be exact).
You want to leave Jamaica for CANADA?! I get wanting to leave home, but tropical beach life for a literal cowtown like Calgary? The biggest event in Calgary every year is the rodeo. I’m not kidding.
Yul, I don’t think he’s right in the head.
Froemming: Well, Yul does carry a photo of Buckingham palace and tells everyone that he will one day live there. Take from that what you will.
Irv manages to get the guys to be able to train in a makeshift push cart that is kinda shaped like a bobsled. And they manage to make a decent start time before they crash into a police car, which made me really doubt they were prepared for the real thing. But there is one issue they have to contend with: They need $20,000 to enter into the winter games, and the isle is not willing to pay their way. So, we get another (REDACTED) montage of the guys making money: Yul arm wrestles, Sanka sings, Derice and Sanka open a kissing booth and Junior…I don’t remember what he did until he sold his car to pay their way into the Olympics.
Brown: Quick caveat: They are paying to go to the Olympic trials. They do have to actually qualify for the Olympics, and the trials just so happen to be at the same place as the Winter Olympics.
Now, when Sanka raps about Jamaica having a bobsled team, the dude raps like famed ‘90s white Canadian rapper Snow. I had to double check and make sure Snow wasn’t on the soundtrack.
And you’re right to forget about Junior in the fundraising montage because he wasn’t in it. After his teammates tried in vain to raise money, he just shows up and is like “LOL, here’s $20,000 in cash money!”
Because athletic competition isn’t enough drama, we have father-son squabbles with Junior and his pops disagreeing on his future. After his sprinter dreams die, Junior’s dad tries to get him to work for some ambiguous firm in Miami. He, of course, won’t tell his dad about the bobsled venture.
Seriously, how hard would it be to say “Dad, you saw how that fell apart. I have one more shot with this bobsled idea. I know it sounds dumb but hear me out: If it doesn’t work, then I’ll go to Miami. I’m sure your connections will find me a job in a couple months.”
I mean, he doesn’t even try reasoning. Because Junior is a complete wimp.
Froemming: His father wasn’t even overbearing. Junior just has no spine. Also, this subplot was completely useless.
Anyway, they make their way to Canada, the land of ice, snow and not much else. You know, Yul’s freedom from his tropical island home nightmare! And, we see they are a bit frightened of the weather, while Irv is wearing a coat that suspiciously looks like the one Candy wore in “Uncle Buck.”
As the team is in the hotel recovering from the brutal onslaught of frigid temps, Irv is trying to get them signed up for the tryouts and we see a group of men he knows. One guy is friendly, but the other two seem to hate his guts. This is because Irv cheated in the 1972 Olympics, thus disgracing his country, his coach and his family. Today, that sort of thing would make him more than qualified to be the president of the United States.
The team is there, but Irv needs one tiny, yet important thing: A (REDACTED) bobsled!
Brown: Right?! Maybe incorporate that into your cost besides the $20,000 to register. Get your rich kid to man up and ask his dad to help pay for a sled instead of buying a beat-up practice sled from the USA that kind of looks like an iron lung.
During this whole sequence, everyone in the Olympic village is looking down on the Jamaicans, seeing them as an embarrassment. I won’t harp on this movie for not being unrealistic, but I’d like to mention that in reality, the other Olympians in the real-life “Cool Runnings” were very supportive of the Jamaicans.
Froemming: We do meet our kinda-antagonist with Josef Grull, from the East Germany team. But, as we know, nobody who speaks German can be an evil man.
Brown: Communists are always the enemy!
While they learn to sprint on ice instead of dirt tracks and whatnot like they did in Jamaica, they also run into another issue: Maneuvering their new sled around a dangerous ice track. Their practice rounds go poorly, to the point that Sanka pees himself because this is a kids movie. I don’t get why Sanka is yelling about slowing the sled down when he’s the one that has the power to do that. He’s the brakeman for crying out loud!
Because the judgemental bobsled community looks down on the Jamaicans, they have a photographer snap photos of their failures, which makes front-page news on the island. The locals aren’t enthusiastic and more important to our plot, Junior’s dad finds out that his son was lying to him.
Quick question: Did Junior’s dad look like a knockoff Uncle Phil from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” to you, too?
Froemming: He reminded me of a cheap knockoff of King Jaffe Joffer from “Coming To America.”
So, Junior is at the hotel bar with Yul, and he receives a telegram from his kinda-ticked off father asking he come back home immediately. We also have the East Germans doing their thing by telling the Jamaicans to go back home. This creates a scene where Yul is trying to teach Junior to stand up against his father, but instead Junior starts mouthing off at the Germans, which is not wise seeing that history has taught us Germans can be violent people (two World Wars is all the proof I need).
Brown: Yul keeps telling Junior he sees power in him. He sees pride. Me? I would have given him the “Act like a man” speech that Vito Corleone gives Johnny Fontaine in the first “Godfather” movie.
This bar fight scene does have one of my favorite parts of the movie, where Sanka flies into the fight after square dancing with the cow folk yokels that inhabit Calgary.
This bar fight draws the ire of Irv, who knows he needs to whip these guys into shape. His words. I got very uncomfortable with him using the verbiage “whip” around a group of black men.
But hey, another training montage!
Froemming: Oh yeah, I was cringing during the “whip” reference.
Well, the team is as good as they can be with the time they have had to train, and Irv’s old coach changes the time to qualify from a minute-two to a minute, because he is still pissed off at Irv and I can’t really blame him. But alas, the team makes it in under a minute, thus qualifying them to be in the Olympics!
Until Irv’s past comes back to haunt him (given that he is a bookie in Jamaica and is not in the best of shape, I think it is fair to say Irv has been living a nightmare since his fall from grace in 1972) and it is announced that the rules have changed in that a team has to have competed professionally in one race to qualify, thus disqualifying the Jamaican team.
This is some seedy (REDACTED) right there. And Irv, to his credit, shames these guys by claiming that they are punishing the Jamaicans, not him, by not letting them compete. Also, it looks bad that they disqualified the only bobsled team with black people on it.
Brown: Way to call out the white privilege of the bobsled community, Irv.
Plus, this idea is dumb. We are disqualifying the Jamaican team because they’ll embarrass the sport. How? You changed the qualifying time right before they go for a qualifying time from 1 minute, 2 seconds to a minute flat. And the Jamaicans cruise into the Olympics with a time of 59.46. That’s not a fringe time.
Stopwatches don’t lie. The Jamaicans are good enough to go to the Olympics. You can’t just exclude the people you’re uncomfortable with like it’s a Trump travel ban.
Froemming: With the exception of the Germans, I didn’t get a racism vibe from the committee, they wanted to punish Irv and lost perspective. But Irv’s rousing speech did the trick: The Jamaicans are in the Olympics!
Brown: Racism or not, I’m going with the committee’s words to Irv.
Everyone on the island is excited. Except for Junior’s dad, who is so mad at his son that he can’t wait three days to bring him back to Zamunda Jamaica to begin his soul-crushing career at an ambiguous firm.
That bugged me a lot. Your kid qualified for the Olympics. I know you’re mad, but hot damn, it’s the Olympics! Wait a few days.
Froemming: Qualified in a sport that he just learned in three months! Holy (REDACTED), Junior’s dad needs to calm down. Not only that, a sport that doesn’t even exist in Jamaica because it requires frigid temps and ice. But sure, crush your son’s dream by forcing him to work in a brokerage firm in Miami and denying him his chance to be in the Olympics.
Brown: Junior FINALLY mans up without Yul’s nagging and tells his dad to make like an egg and beat it. And we get one of those “aww” moments in this movie because Disney.
Now, we gets the Jamaicans taking their first crack at the Olympics. And… it doesn’t go well. They try to imitate the Swiss team, who is the Olympic favorites. The Jamaicans come out slow and put together a completely forgettable performance. Everyone across the globe saw them as a joke and so far, they proved everyone right. So what do they do? They forget chanting in German and start to act like themselves. They have nothing to lose, so let’s have fun in our jazzed-up sled and have cool runnings or whatever they want to call it.
So, they feel the rhythm and the rhyme.
Froemming: Yes, Derice really (REDACTED) the bed with his chanting in German, throwing the team off.
Brown: As someone who took German in high school (solely because the teacher sold gummy bears in the class), saying something in German makes everyone tense. Saying “I love you” (“Ich liebe dich”) in German seems like you’re yelling at someone.
Froemming: It is truly a loud and terrifying language.
Well, they get their rhythm and the second time they compete goes way better. To the point everyone is shocked. They went from last place to eighth place, and a chance to win a medal now. These guys are the real deal.
Now Derice asks Irv why he cheated in the 1972 games. Irv tells him it was his desire to win at all costs that blinded his moral compass. He tells Derice “A gold medal is a wonderful thing, but if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.” Which is the kind of speech that lets you know the team is probably not going to be winning any medals a few scenes later, but they will probably go the distance.
Brown: Well, thanks to their flimsy sled, they technically don’t go the distance. Using the real-life footage of the Jamaican Bobsled Team’s real crash in the 1988 Olympics, our foursome wipes out, making a stop at the final stretch. Although they’re scored as a Did Not Finish, we need a Disney ending. So our beat-up Jamaicans somehow summon the strength to hoist a 600-pound sled on their shoulders and walk on an icy chute to the finish line as the crowd gives them the tried-and-true slow clap. Even Junior’s dad is there cheering on his son before he surely disowns his brood for disobeying him.
Look, it’s hokey and predictable, but I’ll be damned if I don’t enjoy myself a good slow clap.
Froemming: A slow clap started by the evil East German, Josef Grull. The ‘90s man, slow claps in sports films were a staple. Even when the film was about a real piece of (REDACTED) like the main character in “Rudy.”
Brown: And now, as “Futurama” eloquently put it, the Jamaican Bobsled Team will now go back to their homeland as legends and will retire to promote alcoholic beverages. A true inspiration for the children, indeed!
So Froemming, let’s go to recommendations so we can fight the urge to make jokes about the Jamaicans thinking the bobsled was a giant bong.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: Sure. I had fun with this one. It’s a typical live-action Disney movie. It’s not some legendary work that my friends had me believe, but it’s an entertaining 90 minutes.
Froemming: Yup. This is a fun Disney movie. I grew up with it. I’ve always enjoy watching it.
Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down: