The presence in Sochi of the first Jamaican bobsleigh team to compete in the Olympics for 12 years has provoked nostalgia for the 1993 film Cool Runnings. In a post for Slate’s Olympics blog, Justin Peters makes a valiant attempt to stamp on the rose tinted spectacles through which this mediocre film is seen:
It’s a family movie that’s straight from the Save The Cat! template, a formulaic sports comedy that knows when to tug at the heartstrings, when to go for laughs, and when to tap into the anti-Swiss sentiment that lies deep within all of our hearts. I liked it a lot when I was 12. I also liked it because I was 12, and not yet old enough to realize how hacky Cool Runnings was.
Yes, Cool Runnings was a movie for kids, but even by kid-movie standards it is very, very hacky. There’s lots of mugging, plenty of pratfalls. One of the bobsledders is named “Yul Brenner,” and, surprise, he’s bald! Another is named “Sanka Coffie,” for no discernable reason whatsoever. Both of these monikers just go to prove Roger Ebert’s First Law of Funny Names, which says that “Funny names, in general, are a sign of desperation at the screenplay level.” As Desson Howe wrote for the Washington Post upon the film’s release, the movie “consists of two running gags: How funny it is for Jamaicans to be in a bobsled team. [And] how funny blacks are when they endure cold.” Howe dismssed Cool Runnings as one of those patronizing, blandly offensive films “in which cartoonish natives scratch their heads and try to make sense of the white world.” He’s not wrong.
Over the last week or so, my colleague Dan Engber has been on the rampage against “Cool Runnings revisionism”—the sentiment being expressed by some in the media that the movie was good, or a “cult classic.” Cool Runnings is second on Box Office Mojo’s list of top-grossing Olympic movies behind Blades of Glory, so it’s got that going for it. But Matthew Power, in conversation with Engber, has it right when he says that Cool Runnings is less a cult classic than a “pop culture punchline”—a movie that’s continually referenced not because it’s good but because it is a strange cultural artifact that a lot of 30-somethings remember.
I agree. I first saw Cool Runnings on a church weekend away aged about 12 or 13. Even then I thought it was a witless waste of celluloid. And that’s not because I have anything against children’s films or indeed childish films. But I do expect them to have some sparkle and be made with some intelligence. And Cool Runnings was just dumb and lazy.
Getting to the Winter Olympics from a Caribbean Island is an impressive achievement. Making Cool Runnings wasn’t.