Jesse Owens he wasn’t. British ski jumper Michael “Eddie” Edwards won no medals, placed last and peeved purists, who felt he made a mockery of their sport when he competed at the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Canada.
Yet at the same time, Edwards displayed an enthusiasm that delighted spectators, especially when he flapped his arms like an eagle in his joy at being an Olympian. Such spirit earned him his nickname and folk-hero status.
“Eddie the Eagle,” a comedy directed by Dexter Fletcher and written by Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton, dramatizes Edwards’ underdog story.
Those neither old nor British enough to be familiar with Edwards will learn what he accomplished, but nothing more, from this sugary, unadventurous depiction of an unconventional, potentially fascinating subject.
Introduced as a klutzy, bespectacled working-class kid whose weak knees cannot curb his Olympian aspirations, Eddie (Taron Egerton) pursues skiing as a teen.
A few years later, ejected by snooty Olympics officials from Britain’s downhill-skiing team, he takes up jumping. Because Britain has no other ski jumpers vying in the Olympics, he can participate in the games if he otherwise qualifies.
In Germany, Eddie trains in the dangerous sport and finds a reluctant coach in Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), a boozing former jumper whose bad attitude destroyed his own Olympic chances. Unable to get rid of the determined Eddie, Bronson makes him a contender, sort of.
Eddie’s Olympic performance receives more attention for being offbeat rather than for his skill, prompting questions: Is Eddie a sideshow upstaging superior athletes, or is he an inspiring example of amateur spirit?
An appealing, quirky story and an actor’s dream of a character study lie somewhere in this tale of an unglamorous, underfunded son of a plasterer who risks everything to perform a 90-meter jump at the planet’s biggest sports contest.
Occasionally, Fletcher has loopy fun with Eddie’s quest. Training montages, which unfold to synth and 1980s pop music, are amusing. And the visual presentation of the daunting slopes Eddie tackles conveys the sport’s risks.
But the story, partly inspired by the bobsled comedy “Cool Runnings,” goes nowhere imaginative or risky, and the characters don’t transcend their initial cartoonishness.
Eddie, a grinning innocent with no apparent friends or love interests, remains that way. The movie doesn’t show what drives him, other than his obvious desire to prove his worth to those who ridicule him.
The fictional Bronson is a one-note bad boy who smokes, drinks, and, in a passage that brings to mind Meg Ryan’s famed restaurant scene, compares ski jumping to a sex act.
In a pivotal segment, Eddie tells reporters he is a serious athlete. But by presenting him with contrivances, the filmmakers don’t give him depth. Egerton and the usually electric Jackman can do little with such material.
The cast also includes Jim Broadbent, playing a sportscaster, and Christopher Walken, underused as Bronson’s estranged mentor.
Eddie the Eagle
Starring: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Keith Allen, Christopher Walken
Written by: Sean Macauley, Simon Kelton
Directed by: Dexter Fletcher
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes