Odds are pretty good you had never heard of Michael “Eddie” Edwards this time a year ago.
Edwards, a British man and unlikely Olympian, overcame adversity to compete as a ski jumper during the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary while essentially a total novice in the sport.
His tale – told in a similar vein as the classic football drama “Rudy” – opens in theaters this Friday with Hugh Jackman and “Kingsman: The Secret Service” star Taron Egerton as the titular “Eddie the Eagle.”
Egerton, a relative unknown before bursting onto the scene this time last year as a young spy in training, plays Eddie as a bumbling, lovable yet aloof dreamer willing to do whatever it takes to make his life long goal of becoming an Olympian a reality. Even heavily made up, Egerton doesn’t quite look the part especially when contrasted with the real Edwards shown in photographs during the film’s credits.
It’s not overly difficult to play naivety well and Egerton is certainly capable in “Eddie the Eagle,” though his relative inexperience isn’t able to pull the formulaic script up to the same extent he did while surrounded by the likes of Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Samuel L. Jackson in “Kingsman.” There’s enough there in Egerton’s performance to root for and feels a lot like Sean Astin’s work in “Rudy,” a film “Eddie the Eagle” aspires to, but doesn’t quite get there.
Seemingly stuck in the minds of audiences as un-killable X-Man Wolverine, Hugh Jackman finds some softer edges to his typecast role as former Olympic ski jumping sensation turned drunken flameout Bronson Peary, who takes Edwards under his wing for training.
Jackman uses his charisma to make what could have been a terribly, unlikable character somewhat charming, but let’s all remember, Peary (and especially Jackman’s performance) can’t be mistaken for Burgess Meredith’s Oscar-nominated turn as Rocky Balboa’s aging coach Mickey in the “Rocky” franchise, either.
Christopher Walken makes a small, yet impactful cameo (because he’s Christopher Walken) as Peary’s former coach, but Jim Broadbent – fresh off a fantastic supporting role in Oscar nominee “Brooklyn” – shines best in support as the lead British commentator announcing Eddie’s Olympic exploits. His turn from anti-Eddie to pro-Eagle is one of the best things about the entire film.
What “Eddie the Eagle” gets very right is the universal and incredibly relatable underdog story structure. While it’s true that the screenplay from Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton isn’t filled with twists, turns and other surprises, the film’s pure simplicity works effortlessly to make “Eddie the Eagle” a family friendly adventure (for the most part).
Eddie is portrayed as a beyond reproach, naïve near-adolescent who doesn’t pick up on women making sexual advances and can’t quite relate to his coach’s analogy between body position in flight and going all the way with Bo Derek.
To be sure, there are some mildly violent crashes where Eddie and his fellow jumpers take bone crushing tumbles down the side of a mountain, but children old enough to handle PG-13 material shouldn’t have any issues here.
Like its “Kingsman” cousin, “Eddie the Eagle” greatly benefits from a pitch-perfect 80’s soundtrack, led by a terrific score from Matthew Margeson, Thin Lizzy and even the super-cliché “You Make My Dreams Come True” by Hall and Oates during a training montage.
And really, that’s the hook for “Eddie the Eagle.”
As an audience, viewers know that it’s kind of hokey to have Hall and Oates providing the ambience to an extra-traditional training montage. Director Dexter Fletcher and his team make “Eddie the Eagle” so warm and inviting that it simply doesn’t matter. Sports-minded moviegoers definitely need to check out this fun biopic rather than slog their way through the uneven, disappointing Jesse Owens biopic “Race.”
Light-hearted and fun, the inspiration-heavy “Eddie the Eagle” is perfect for those audiences too old for “Kung Fu Panda 3” and too young for “Deadpool” and is a great middle ground film that should do better in a home viewing experience than in the theaters.