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Eddie the Eagle' takes flight

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Inspirational sports movie a true underdog story

Everyone loves an underdog.

That's why some of the most entertaining sports movies out there films like 'Rocky' and 'Hoosiers' and 'Rudy' and 'The Bad News Bears' focus on the efforts of a scrappy, downtrodden athlete or team to rise above circumstances and achieve greatness.

'Eddie the Eagle' directed by Dexter Fletcher is the story of just such an underdog. The film is inspired by the real-life journey of Eddie Edwards, the British ski jumper whose dogged pursuit of sporting glory (despite a decided lack of athletic talent) led to a spot in 1988's Calgary Games.

Eddie (Taron Egerton, 'Legend') has spent his life in a quest to make an Olympic team, accompanied throughout by the quiet support of his mother Janette (Jo Hartley, TV's 'Not Safe For Work') and the exasperated disdain of his father Terry (Keith Allen, 'Hector'). When his dreams of joining the British downhill ski squad are squashed by snobby team official Dustin Target (Tim McInnerny, 'Race'), Eddie must find another path to his Olympic dream.

And so he decides to become a ski jumper.

He moves to Germany and begins trying to train himself, inviting scorn and derision from all of the elite athletes surrounding him. Despite a few kindnesses from the locals, Eddie proves unable to make the improvement he needs to make the Olympics. That all changes, however, when he meets Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman, 'Pan'), an American ski jumper who suffered a fall from grace that culminated in a job grooming the ski park and a drinking problem.

Peary wants nothing to do with Eddie, but the amiable ambition displayed by the Brit eventually wins him over. The two enter into training together with all of the usual sorts of assorted hiccups along the way - in hopes of somehow doing enough to help Eddie achieve his dream of participating in the Olympic Games.

As has been previously established, I am an absolute sucker for an inspirational sports movie. And 'Eddie the Eagle' is most assuredly just that; this is the kind of movie that is unapologetically overt in tossing off clich after clich while tugging at each and every available heartstring. There's plenty of stuff here that is flat-out formulaic.

But it works.

It doesn't hurt that the actual story is undeniably charming. Eddie Edwards absolutely won over the athletic world at Calgary. And there's something to be said for a hero that is unquestionably flawed, yet whose flaws actually make it easier to like and root for him. It's a story that can't help but make you feel good.

Egerton and Jackman lead the way. Egerton is all awkward charisma playing against type as Eddie; he plays up the naivet and constant air of vague confusion in a very effective manner. Jackman, meanwhile, is as relaxed as we've seen him in a long time. The change of pace from big-budget fare suits him he's clearly having fun. The dynamic between the two men is excellent; there's a palpable rapport that reads well on-screen. As for the rest, Hartley and Allen both offer touching performances that, yes, are a bit saccharine, but no less effective because of it. And McInnerny is serviceable enough as the bad guy, smug and snobby and adequately hissable. Oh, and Christopher Walken has a cameo, so there's that.

Director Dexter Fletcher and screenwriters Simon Kelton and Sean Macaulay are perfectly aware that there's no need to reinvent the wheel here. And they don't 'Eddie the Eagle' isn't going to show you anything that you haven't seen before. It's a fun little dramedy that offers some laughs and some triumphs and some big sappy feelings, nothing more. And what's wrong with that?

So yes, this movie doesn't quite measure up to the classics of the sports underdog genre, but that's OK. In fact, the most apt comparison might be 'Cool Runnings,' the story of the Jamaican bobsled team that competed in these same Calgary Olympic Games. Aren't there worse things?

'Eddie the Eagle' isn't an unqualified success. It has its flaws. But so too did its inspiration. The film's biggest triumph is capturing the spirit of its namesake. It might be clichd and far too earnest, but it is also heartfelt and sweet. Like Eddie himself, this film might not be a medalist, but it is still fun to watch.

[4 out of 5]


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