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COOL RUNNINGS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Leon, Doug E. Doug, Rawle D. Lewis, Malik Yoba, John Candy
Director:  Jon Turtletaub
Audio:  Dolby 2.0 Surround
Video:  Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  Theatrical Trailer
Length:  98 Minutes
Release Date:  August 24, 1999

Film ***1/2

Sometimes, it’s hard to tell from advanced publicity whether a live action offering from the Disney studios is going to be little more than adequate family fare, or something really special and memorable.  They achieved the latter with Cool Runnings…a story that follows the underdog-makes-good formula to the letter, and is therefore hardly original, but still, it just plain works.

The film is based (and being a Disney film, do I even have to say ‘loosely’ based?) on the true story of the Jamaican bobsled team, which still exists and competed in the most recent Winter Olympics.  It tells the tale of three speedy track stars and one pushcart driver with nothing but a dream, and the washed out, disgraced coach (Candy) who reluctantly gets pulled in to help.  The guys believe they have what it takes to compete in the Olympics as bobsledders, though they’ve never seen a bobsled, and happen to live in a country with no snow or ice.

Naturally, nobody takes them seriously but themselves—not their friends or families, not their country, and certainly not the athletes competing from around the world that have trained their whole lives for this sport.  Not even their own coach does at first, but soon he, like everyone else and we, the audience, are won over by their cheerful dispositions and their refusal to give up their dream.

The film, as I mentioned, is the stuff of pure formula, but that formula has been the source of movie success before, and no doubt, will again.  This is simply a story with a great spirit to it, a genuinely positive attitude, and with characters we truly like and care about.  It’s both funny and entertaining, and leaves you smiling.  Sometimes, that’s enough.

Video ***1/2

Although not anamorphic, this is still a high quality transfer from Disney.  Only a few early shots of Jamaican outdoors look a little unnatural, with the overabundance of ‘hot’ colors, but that was no doubt to create a visual effect to represent the climate.  The rest of the transfer is sharp and clear, without grain (even in darker scenes), and excellent color rendering.  Much of the latter part of the movie features a mix of darker colored images against a white snow background, and there is no bleeding from one to the other to be found. 

Audio ***

Although not labeled on the box, this appears to be a 2.0 surround mix, with plenty of swooshing around during the exciting racing scenes, making use of the single channel rear stage and adding volume to the dynamic range.

Features *

Only a trailer.

Summary:

Cool Runnings is almost as much of a rarity as a truly original movie—it’s a film that’s not original in the least, but thoroughly absorbing and entertaining anyway.  It paints by the numbers, but comes up with a whole that seems to be greater than the sum of the individual parts.  Heck, it’s just plain fun.  Go, Jamaica!