Sports comedies seemed to have been a pretty big trend in the late 80s and early/mid-90s, and it’s no lie that they all seemed to follow a pretty solid formula. They usually follow a person or group of people as leaders of the tale, the underdogs that we are obliged to follow and cheer on. And whether the protagonist(s) win or lose the final competition they’ve spent the whole film practicing for, they’re always bound to learn something about themselves in the end. In such regards, Cool Runnings is no different. It is a loose adaptation of true life events, here detailing the Jamaican bobsledding team’s first entrance into the ’88 Olympics. It follows all the beats that are bound to come along such a tale – almost ridiculously so – but personally speaking , I’d say that this is one of the best of its kind.
As far as the story is concerned, it’s pretty easy to see which direction Cool Runnings would choose to go. The bobsledding team at front-and-center comes from a rather unexpected place – sunny Jamaica – which is not unlike the ragtag team of The Bad News Bears or the underdog ladies in A League of Their Own. The team itself is even composed of a stereotypical collection of personalities one would find in such a flick. We’ve got the leader, the comic relief, the sensible soul, and the hard-as-nails tough guy. To up the ante, there’s even the typical “former glory down on his luck” couch who leads the team to victory, played by none other than John Candy. It’s interesting to note that this was his final film to be released before his death; however, I’d like to note that he’s certainly done better.
As I’ve stated before, it’s not difficult to see how this story will pan out. Our team faces obstacles and prejudices aplenty. There’s even an antagonistic rival team, German in origin and stereotypically snooty as ever. With such a conventional approach to this all, it’s certainly easy for one to roll their eyes at what the final product has become. What saves Cool Runnings, however, is its indisputable charm which could be found within the crevices of its writing and performances. While I found the movie itself rather funny, it’s easy to see how it wouldn’t work for other viewers; however, this slight misstep is saved by the fact that so much of the film is quotable beyond belief. I spent days after watching the movie pulling out random lines into everyday conversation. It’s hard not to fall in love with its warmth and cuddliness.
The faithfulness of this adaptation – as it is with any adaptation from a real-life event – is certainly questionable, especially given with how closely the narrative holds to formulaic tendencies of similar sports films. With that being said, I’d be willing to bet that any changes made for the sake of credibility and pacing issues were decisions well made overall. The climactic ending of Cool Runnings particularly impressed me, in its ability to transform the unfortunate circumstances that unfold into something compelling and absolutely inspirational. There’s even a well-deserved slow-clap that punctuates it all brilliantly! In some ways, I’m probably biased in my praise for Cool Runnings, as I think the conception of more films with people of color working in solidarity are always great. Despite this, it’s a genuinely fun film and one that certainly deserves to rise above its seemingly cultish status in filmic prestige.