Everyone loves a good underdog story, right? A plucky young outsider, a world full of naysayers, a judgmental peer group made up of James Spader characters from the 80s, a reluctant mentor who ALSO has to overcome his own personal feelings of inadequacy… of course we like these stories. They are designed to be liked. And Eddie the Eagle, the latest movie to fit this formula, seems to have had only one goal: BE LIKABLE. So it’s hard to say that this movie isn’t enjoyable, or worth watching. Because it does succeed in that goal. In the way that a 105-minute long video of cute animals being friends would succeed in being likable. It’s a white bread butter sandwich when you’re hungry. Fine, serviceable, but you could have done so much better.
You already know the plot to Eddie the Eagle. It’s the plot to every other sports movie that’s ever had a lovable underdog. (They even work in a quick Cool Runnings joke, just to let you know they’re in on the joke. The joke being that they made pretty much the identical movie about the actual same event.) We first meet Michael “Eddie” Edwards as a young boy, who holds his breath for 58 seconds in the bath and is therefore running away to Rome to compete in the Olympics. As we watch him montage a decade or so of other sporting failures, we’re meant to know that Eddie doesn’t have a passion (and definitely not any sort of skill) for athletics, or at least not any particular one sport. Rather, he just wants to go to the Olympics. That’s his goal. And since Eddie had to wear a leg brace until he was a teenager, this fits the Overcoming Obstacles box on the genre checklist, and we’re supposed to care.
We’re eventually given a more persuasive reason to root for Eddie (now, as a young adult, played by Kingsman’s Taron Egerton, who is, it should be noted, charming as hell throughout), when he actually gets close to making it to the 1988 Winter Olympics, and the posh British team members and executives tell him that even if he’s technically good enough to qualify, he’s “not Olympic material.” The army of Blaines won’t accept him or ever put him on a team, so Eddie finds the sport that doesn’t have a team, meaning no competition, and they’ll HAVE to let him compete. I did tell you this was basically Cool Runnings, right? Except instead of bobsledding, Eddie goes for ski jumping. An impressive but stupidly dangerous sport, not exactly a great choice for a kid with little to no natural athletic prowess.
There are elements of this movie that work so well it’s almost infuriating, given how underwhelming the thing is as a whole. At times, the movie has the feel of an 80s ski comedy, and these moments are a delight. However, they hit so randomly that we can’t even be sure if they’re deliberate. Like I mentioned, those posh Chad Michael Murrays are great unrelentingly punchable villains. But that “unrelenting part” is actually a sticking point. Everything here is unrelenting. Every character and plot point and motivation is one note and that note is turned up to 11 and stuck there. No one believes in Eddie, and everyone makes sure to tell him that ad nauseum. Except his mother, whose support is endless and unconditional, with no other dimensions or characteristics. Eddie’s reluctant coach Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman, whose 80s jeans may be the best part of this entire movie) is just a rebel-with-a-minor-cause Haymitch from The Hunger Games: an abrasive alcoholic with his own personal demons so just let him drink out of his American Flag flask in peace while also doing middle of the night runs down the big scary slope because you’ll just never understand him GAWD *slams bedroom door*.
I’m not anything close to an expert on release date strategy, but it does feel like Eddie the Eagle could have done itself a favor with a different release date. All of its faults would actually make it the perfect Christmas movie. When your entire extended family has to see a movie together, butter sandwich is the way to go. And I’m sure a lot of people are looking for a respite from Oscar Importance right now, but this kind of fluff— which I’m sure was aiming for “lighthearted” and took a wrong turn into “uninspired”— is even more unimpressive in this Academy-dominated weekend.
Again, you probably won’t think this movie is straight-up terrible, and it certainly has its place. If you are looking for a purely feel-good flick, something that won’t make you think, but also isn’t offensive (save, maybe, for two unnecessary jokes about how at least Eddie isn’t a ballerina) or offensively stupid, this is a good one. This is a family time movie, or a sick day movie when it’s eventually available to watch at home. But in a genre that almost always plays to well-known formula, I just can’t understand how a film can justify such unoriginality.
Oh, and Christopher Walken is also in this movie for a few minutes. The amount of effort I just put into working that fact into this review is about the same as the movie itself. So, none at all.