08202017Headline:

Aiming high with “Eddie the Eagle” (movie review)

By Jeff Boudreaux

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It’s hard to dislike a film such as “Eddie the Eagle,” an inspiring, true account of one man’s lifelong battle against the odds. From a young child with a knee brace to a wide-eyed teenager with seemingly-insurmountable dreams and finally, the young man who captured the heart of the world during the 1988 Winter Olympics, Eddie devoted every moment of his existence to discovering his personal best. As he overcomes each obstacle that is thrown in front of him – whether it be the sport he loves or that pesky British bureaucracy – we are there every step of the way to cheer him on.

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That’s because Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) is probably the most aspiring chap you’ll ever have the pleasure to meet. A lover of the slopes, Eddie has big dreams about making the cut to compete on Britain’s downhill squad during the Winter Olympics. When his performance isn’t quite good enough to procure a final spot on the British team – and partly because his late entrance at the trials amounted to his fellow Brits being knocked down like a procession of dominoes (!) – Eddie isn’t about to quit like everyone, including his mother and father (played by the terrifically-cast Jo Hartley and Keith Allen), wants him to. Nope, in fact the word “quit” isn’t even part of Eddie’s vocabulary. If at first you don’t succeed, try something similar – and way more dangerous! Eddie decides what would really set him apart from the rest of the crowd would be to do what no British athlete has ever done and that is to attempt the dreaded Olympic ski jump, like his idol Matti Nykänen (Edvin Endre).

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Buying a ticket to Germany for their Olympic trials, Eddie fits in right away by perfecting the 15 meter jump – the problem for him is that it’s basically the kiddie slope. When it comes to the 40m jump, he has a nasty habit of falling flat on his face. Also take into account that this is only the proverbial “tip of the iceberg,” as there’s a 70m jump and finally, the gargantuan 90m ramp, as well. Disgraced former Olympic competitor (and current drunk) Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), now employed as a slope-sweeper, notices Eddie and his series of failures and (of course) reluctantly agrees to train the guy. Here is where the crux of the film lies – the relationship between Eddie and Bronson. It’s a mutually beneficial situation – for Eddie because he gets first class instruction for free from someone who’s actually been there, and even though Bronson doesn’t realize it yet, he needs an excuse to disconnect himself from his alcoholic crutch – a flask of whiskey which he affectionately refers to as his “jacket.” With the help of his new coach and some dogged determination, Eddie won’t be ending his campaign until he competes as a ski-jumper, on ramps including the feared 90m jump, in front of a worldwide viewing audience. Co-starring Christopher Walken as Warren Sharp, Bronson’s former coach and ski-jump author extraordinaire.

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“Eddie the Eagle” is the third feature-length film directed by prolific British actor Dexter Fletcher, and the third time is certainly the charm as his other two films (“Wild Bill,” “Sunshine on Leith”) didn’t exactly make an impact on this side of the Atlantic. The force behind this film is largely in part to the impeccable casting of rising British star Taron Egerton as Eddie. A testament to his acting ability, it didn’t occur to me until after I watched the film that this was the same actor who had played the lead role of “Eggsy,” the tough kid turned suave secret agent in 2014’s mega-hit “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” As counterintuitive as you can get by connecting the dots between Egerton and these starkly different characterizations, this fine young actor is undoubtedly going to impress moviegoers for a long time to come. Hugh Jackman is also genuinely likeable as Bronson, and this rare supporting role happens to agree with the superstar actor. Unfortunately, he can also stake claim (at least acting-wise) to providing the film’s most outlandish scene. Attempting to prove to Eddie (and the obnoxious German team) that he still “has it,” Bronson successfully completes a 70m jump at night, while drunk and smoking a cigarette! I think we all can agree that Hugh Jackman is the epitome of cool (his name will forever be synonymous with Wolverine for crying out loud!) but this is nothing short of ridiculous. And even though I hate to admit it, screen veteran Christopher Walken manages to detract from the role of Warren Sharp, because frankly…well…he’s Christopher Walken and he does a good job of playing himself.

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Before I had seen this film or even its trailer, I was instantly reminded of 2012’s “Chasing Mavericks.” Was it because Hugh Jackman was driving a van on the film’s poster, just as Gerard Butler had in that movie? Maybe. I mean, Taron Egerton was on top of the van while Jonny Weston was inside of it in the other film as I recall, but I digress. This belief was further solidified in the opening scene by having young Eddie timing himself while holding his breath underwater in his bathtub. Then I came to the realization that the two films seem similar because they’re both representations of the classic mentor/student relationship that’s at the heart of many a sports film, of which “Eddie the Eagle” is a prime example. After watching the film, I quickly dropped the notion that this was anything other than the feel-good story of the year about the young man who learned to soar like an eagle. Settle in and enjoy the life and pursuits of the ultimate underdog and you just may become a little stronger because of it, if only vicariously.

*** (three out of four stars)

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