There’s a reason why rousing sports movies about skiing is not a thing

And yet the improbable biopic of a 1980s British skier, improbably costarring Hugh Jackman, is actually pretty compelling.

Eddie the Eagle
Taron Eggerton in Eddie the Eagle

2.5 star rating

There’s a reason why skiing has inspired the least amount of rousing sports movies and the most amount of movies about horny teenagers and Playboy bunnies doing topless backflips into giant cakes: of all the spectator sports, it is most likely the loneliest, most introspective and precision-based. Winners are determined solely by statistics, and direct skier-to-skier competition (as opposed to, say, boxing, which is just as much about strategy and statistics but involves both participants wailing on each other in an inherently dramatic way) is rare. If you narrow it down to ski jumping, you’ve got just about the least narratively compelling sport imaginable. Ski jumping is visually impressive, but it’s just as visually impressive on TV – it’s one of the only sports that people watch solely for the off chance that someone might wipe out spectacularly. In that sense, Eddie the Eagle’s biggest strength is that it manages to wring every corny note of sports-movie familiarity out of otherwise rarely-trod ground.

Despite having grown up as a sickly, working-class British kid with no particular talent for athletics, Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) has spent his whole life focusing on his dream: becoming an Olympian. Cycling through almost every sport in search of the one he’s the least terrible at, Edwards finds ski jumping as a last resort in his early twenties. England hasn’t had a ski jumping team since 1929 (the film is set in 1987), so Edwards sets about becoming the entirety of their team. He moves to Germany in order to train, where he’s reluctantly taken in by Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), a hard-living American former ski jumper now employed as a caretaker on the training grounds. With Peary’s encouragement and a seemingly endless amount of dogged determination, the dorky, chipper Edwards sets his sight on the big prize.

Eddie Edwards is a real guy, though even minimal research shows me that much of Eddie the Eagle is entirely fictional; he may have had a coach, but he wasn’t a whiskey-swilling cowboy with a tough exterior. In streamlining the real story of Edwards into Rudy On Ice, the filmmakers put forth one-dimensional characters that soon take a backseat to all of the training montages. Edwards is depicted as almost Forrest Gump-like in his single-minded resolve, Peary is tanned-leather Eastwood-lite, Edwards’ parents are the monosyllabic yin and yang (she believes in him, he does not) and the bad guys are literally snickering Aryan ubermen (the Finnish team, which represents the film’s biggest antagonist, are frequently depicted nude and oily) or caricatural, snobbish British aristocrats. It makes the whole thing somewhat cartoonish — or at least significantly more cartoonish than a movie about a moustachioed underdog mascot needs to be.


Egerton and Hugh Jackman

It doesn’t help that, given very little, Egerton doesn’t do much. He latches on to the real-life Edwards’ underbite and Coke-bottle glasses for dear life and spends much of the movie mugging and relying on facial tics for characterization. Granted, there’s not much he could’ve done with the movie he’s got. Jackman fares somewhat better, though it becomes fairly obvious that he could do this kind of thing in his sleep. Equally simplistic are the score and soundtrack — 1988 happens to be the peak era for synth-driven, montage-propulsing power ballads and the film is awash in tinny drum machines and chintzy keyboard vamps.

For all of its flaws (and they are myriad), I nevertheless found myself surprisingly invested in Eddie the Eagle by its third act. As corny as the material is, director Dexter Fletcher (probably best known as an actor — he was in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels AND Layer Cake) does manage to make it rousing and exciting. There’s some extremely dodgy CGI at play here (particularly a scene where Jackman barrels down the hill, cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth while Thin Lizzy’s “The Cowboy Song” blares, which looks like some kind of beyond-shit bubblegum ad) but a lot of the racing scenes are quite well done and the production design is rather subtly ‘80s for a movie that never met a synth line it didn’t like. Formula is formula is formula, and Eddie the Eagle is basically just that. ■

Eddie the Eagle opens in theatres on Friday, Feb. 26. Watch the trailer here: