Published Feb 26, 2016Dexter Fletcher's Eddie The Eagle is a winking homage to '80s sports movies, packed with training montages, dazzling stunts and a cheesy synth score, but strikes a unique tone by putting a vaguely postmodern spin on the genre that lets the audience in on the joke without devolving into parody (a la Hot Rod). Eddie The Eagle never strays from its aim of being a crowd-pleaser; much like those of the title hero, the film's goals may be small, but Fletcher manages to land each modest hurdle with gusto.
Taron Egerton made a splash in last year's Kingsman (directed by Matthew Vaughn, who tags along this time around as producer), and proves to be a solid character actor here, shedding his Bond-ian leading-man charisma to portray the real-life British ski jumper Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards. Egerton allows himself to be surprisingly ugly — all scrunched-up faces and an unflattering moustache — in what feels like a riff on "method" performances.
The film is a schmaltzier retelling of Edwards' ski competition at the 1988 Calgary Olympics. Escaping a dour working-class life in England, Edwards obsesses about Olympic glory, even though his skills are limited. His big opportunity comes when he applies as Britain's ski-jumping hopeful and, thanks to a loophole in the rules, is accepted; Eddie teams up with burnt-out coach and bad boy of the ski world, Bronson Peary, and the ragtag duo take on the world. Hugh Jackman is perfect as Peary, playing looser than he has in years and having lots of fun with the material. Egerton and Jackman make a fine comedic team, and lend the film plenty of heart, helping along the already solid screenplay from Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton.
While Eddie The Eagle is a solid popcorn crowd-pleaser, it's more Cool Runnings (a film that gets a self-conscious nod here) than Rocky in terms of being an underdog story. Fletcher is less concerned with pulling at your heartstrings and more focused on making audiences laugh, and the film is appreciably old-fashioned and broad. Still, it's clear why Matthew Vaughn, one of the most subversive filmmakers working today, was drawn to the material as a producer. Eddie The Eagle toes the line of social satire like the rest of his material (especially Kingsman and Kick-Ass), but never delves into the mean-spiritedness of those films. Instead, it riffs gently on the hardships of class and the lunacy one requires to take on the world's problems, a family-friendly take on themes that have been running through his body of work.
Eddie The Eagle is full of bright pop colours and a dedication to its '80s period setting, complete with ugly snowsuits and neon lights. Rather than play up the period setting as a joke, as in Wet Hot American Summer, the film plays as a loving tribute to sports comedies. Any film that ends with the big final jump and transitions into Van Halen's "Jump" has to be in on the gag, so while Eddie The Eagle doesn't land a gold medal, it's still a winner.