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'Eddie the Eagle' puts the lift in uplifting
Hugh Jackman and Taron Egerton star in Eddie the Eagle." - photo by Josh Terry
"EDDIE THE EAGLE" 3 stars Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Christopher Walken; PG-13 (suggestive material, partial nudity and smoking); in general release

Sometimes it feels like you can group sports movies into two categories. The first deals with athletes or teams that are gunning for the title, trying to be the "best of the best." This category can include films such as the recent Jesse Owens biopic "Race," or even "little engine that could" stories like 1986's "Hoosiers."

The second category isn't concerned with the title so much as just getting on the field. "Rudy" seems to be the gold standard here, though "Rocky" might be a better example overall. These films often feel more inspiring because they're more relatable, at least to those of us who gave up on our dreams of athletic greatness shortly after puberty.

Inspired by a true story from the 1988 Winter Olympics, "Eddie the Eagle" clearly belongs in the second category. It won't revolutionize the genre, but it is a fun and inspiring film that gets better as it goes along.

"Eddie" is Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton), a painfully awkward Briton who desperately wants to be an Olympian, even though his genetics have argued vehemently to the contrary. Over the years, he dabbled in a variety of events, finally hitting a relative stride with downhill skiing. But his best efforts come up short of qualifying for the British squad, and at the ripe old age of 22, his Olympic dreams appear to be over.

That's about when Eddie discovers ski jumping and learns that England hasn't sent a competitor to the Olympics since the 1920s. Sensing his opportunity, Eddie goes for the throat, undeterred by the footage of jumpers crash landing in a dramatic mess of snow and flailing limbs.

But Eddie soon finds that his lack of athleticism is only one of many obstacles. Fearing a national embarrassment, the British Olympic Committee seems just as determined to keep him off the team as he is determined to join it. And when Eddie tries to get help from other jumpers, he quickly learns that he is unwelcome in a very exclusive club.

The only help he gets is from a former jumper named Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), an American who fell from grace into an alcoholic stupor after a falling-out with his famous coach, Warren Sharp (Christopher Walken). But even Peary's help is reluctant, more motivated by a desire to keep poor Eddie from killing himself than in ushering him to Olympic glory.

Jackman isn't gunning for any Oscar glory of his own here, essentially playing The Wolverine sans retractable blades. The film is more hinged on Egerton, who almost seems too nerdy to exist in reality until you see the photos of the real Eddie over the closing credits. Egerton's Eddie is an underdog in most every sense of the word, yet the one thing he has going for him is so irrepressible that you believe he can accomplish anything.

Anyone with a vague memory of the 1988 Winter Olympics will know that Eddie eventually makes it to Calgary, but the journey there and the inside story of what happened on those slopes is still worth taking. (Audiences should also keep an eye out for a subtle nod to the Jamaican bobsled team, which was immortalized in 1993's "Cool Runnings.")

"Eddie the Eagle" also benefits from the fact that ski jumping is a captivating sport to watch, made all the more incredible by the multi-angle drama of a Hollywood production. Combined with a world-class underdog story, "Eddie the Eagle" might just inspire you whether you want it to or not.

"Eddie the Eagle" is rated PG-13 for some suggestive material, partial nudity and smoking; running time: 105 minutes
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