“Eddie the Eagle” wants you to believe that it’s an off-kilter, edgy comedic biopic based on the exploits of Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards, who competed as a ski jumper for England in the 1988 Olympics. As to the biopic part, forget it. This should probably be regarded as pretty much a work of fiction, but that’s okay. “Rocky” was fictional, too. The movie is also a far more traditional, sentimental, inspirational piece of Hollywood moviemaking than it seems to want to be, but that’s okay too. Audiences like those movies, and “Eddie the Eagle” is a thoroughly entertaining example.
We see Edwards first as a child (played by Tom Costello and Jack Costello), dreaming of Olympic glory, who only needs a sport to excel at. Though beset by physical disabilities, it never occurs to Edwards that there’s anything unrealistic about this. His doting mother (Jo Hartley) encourages him, but his working-class father (Keith Allen) wants Eddie to follow in his footsteps, and the family plastering business. When the summer sports don’t work out for him, he settles on skiing, But when Edwards (Taron Egerton) is cut from the Olympic ski team by an officious snob of an official (Mark Benton), he’s forced to find yet another Plan B and impulsively heads off to Germany, to try ski jumping.
Anyone, other than a ski jumper, who’s ever seen an Olympic ski jumping ramp up close would wonder what in Hell could have gotten into him. The entire sport is predicated on flipping the bird at the laws of physics. Eddie just straps on a pair of skis and slides down the damn thing without so much as a single lesson. And is lucky to survive it.
Taron Egerton is almost unrecognizable from “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” but evokes a loveable geekiness as Eddie. There’s something a little calculated about how the way we’re manipulated into rooting for him – from a cute kid picked last for every team to an awkward everyman who ends up an unlikely Spartacus rebelling against the entrenched British class system, Eddie is a perennial underdog for the entire movie. Forget the fact that Eddie in fact did not win any medals – that he gets to compete at all is the point of the movie. Rocky didn’t have to win, just go the distance, but with Eddie the point is just to get into the ring.
Enter Hugh Jackman, as Bronson Peary, an entirely fictitious character, a former rogue ski jumper who now works buildings and grounds at the training facility, but agrees to help Eddie train. Of course he has his own motives – including proving himself to both himself and his old coach (Christopher Walken), who regards him as lifelong disappointment. Bronson looks remarkably fit for someone who we are led to believe has hit the skids of alcoholism, but this is a movie after all. And Jackman, entering a craggy, Eastwood-esque phase of his career, is especially entertaining here, with an intuitive sense of what the role requires and running with it.
The script, by Sean Macaulay (“Hitchcock”) and first timer Simon Kelton deftly mixes fact with fiction, and the audience isn’t going to care where one ends and the other begins. You don’t get your audience rooting for your hero by going easy on him, and they’re very good at giving their hero hurdles to get over, from indifferent and even hostile officials to Norwegian nudist competitors to his own teammates, who are only too happy to get him drunk and watch him fall on his face.
Dexter Fletcher, a veteran English actor, is only his third outing as a director, but makes the most of it. Clearly taking relish in the conventions of the sports movie genre, he provides the requisite training montages, etc., periodically turning them on their heads. The soundtrack, which incorporates vintage Hall & Oates and Ravel’s “Bolero.” He displays a shrewd knack for getting the audience to cheer on cue, absolutely necessary with this type of vehicle. The ski jump sequences themselves are worth the wait, and when Eddie takes to the air, the camera goes with him. When Eddie takes wing, he soars, and the audience goes with him.
“Eddie the Eagle” opens in Capital District theaters on Friday, February 26th, including: the Regal Cinemas Clifton Park Stadium 10 & RPX, the Regal Cinemas Colonie Center Stadium 13 & RPX, the Regal Cinemas Crossgates Stadium 18 & IMAX, the Regal Cinemas East Greenbush 8, the Spectrum 8 on Delaware Avenue in Albany and the Bow Tie Wilton Mall Cinemas & BTX.