Cool Runnings is able to defy everything formulaic about sports movies and manages to rise up as a crowd-pleasing comedy.
Directed by Jon Turteltaub from a script written by Lynn Siefert and Tommy Swerdlow & Michael Goldberg, the film stars Leon, Doug E. Doug, Rawle D. Davis, Malik Yoba, and John Candy. Interestingly enough, none of the four actors starring as the Jamaican bobsled team are even from Jamaica. Three are from America and Lewis is said to have been born in Trinidad.
Cool Runnings is inspired by the true story of the Jamaican bobsled team competiting during the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Derice Bannock (Leon) is one of the elite Jamaican sprinters and when his Olympic dreams end for making the track team, he does whatever he can to fulfill his dreams no matter what sport. Learning that ex-United States gold medal bobsledding winner Irv Blitzer (John Candy) is living somewhere in Jamaica, he seeks him out with his friend, Sanka Cofie (Doug E. Doug). Irv is reluctant to say yes but Derice is not about to take no for an answer.
After holding a meeting, it just so happens that the two other sprinters in the fall, Junior Bevil (Lewis) and Yul Brenner (Yoba), are the only other people with an interest in joining the newly formed bobsled team. Because Junior prevented both derice and Yul from competing in the summer games, there’s some animosity. It takes a while but the team is finally able to get it together.
I like what John Candy brings to the role as the coach. The Second City alumnus brings a nice mixture of both comedy and drama in what would sadly turn out to be among his final roles before his untimely passing in 1994 (the last released while he was living). Addressing the fictional International Alliance of Winter Sports after the team was disqualified due to rule changes, Blitzer gives a passionate speech that Candy puts so much into the delivery.
Released in October 1993, one of the best things about Cool Runnings is that the film introduced wider audiences to the great winter sport that is bobsledding. Filmmakers made a lot of creative changes from the inspiring true story that the film is based on. While the dramatic changes on the creative side help to make the film more of a crowd-pleaser, it also means that audiences don’t learn the true story without looking it up. For example, the film ignores that the Jamaicans also had a two-man bobsled team that was able to complete all four of its runs.
While Cool Runnings is able to work as a comedy, it could have just as easily been one of the great sports dramas of our time. While we’re never truly know what could have been, we’ll just have to settle for what was. Regardless, the film comes together so well–even if the Jamaican underdogs didn’t win or even come close to medal contention.
Walt Disney Pictures released Cool Runnings on October 1, 1993.