George Eads, best known for his performances on the hit TV series C.S.I., plays the one and only Robbie 'Evel' Knievel in this made for TV bio-pic that debuted last year on TNT.
The film follows Knievel from his early days as a motorbike loving teenager in the 1950s through to his rise to a whiskey loving tail chasing internationally recognizable daredevil in the late sixties and early seventies. Along the way we see his personal life erode for a few different reasons and we're witness to some recreations of his more notorious stunts through the magic of television (and some very bad looking CGI) and an abundance of stock footage shot during the period in which the movie takes place.
You'd think that putting a half way decent actor like Eads in a movie that tells the story of one of the pioneer's of stunt riding and the extreme sports phenomena that's been plaguing television for the last decade or so would be a winner, right? Evel Knievel is a really interesting guy if you read up on his life. He not only rode like a bat out of hell but he battled his own personal demons throughout his life and his career and as such he's a great subject for a movie to be made about his life (1971's Evel Knievel starring George Hamilton in the lead not withstanding).
Unfortunately, the film flops and it flops pretty hard. A careless disdain for accuracy ruins what could have otherwise been a decent enough film. There are a couple of scenes where the filmmaker's use music from the period in which the scene takes place to build atmosphere and bring a feeling of authenticity to the film but instead it backfires on them as in at least two instances they use songs that had not yet been recorded in the year that the scene is set in. Scenes set in the 1950s show aluminum beer cans, plastic hard hats on a construction site, and skates and helmets that were not made until decades later. Some might not care, after all this is a made for TV movie about Evil Knievel, right? Bring on the stunts and bike work! Bring on the hard drinking and hard living and womanizing he was known for! Well, the movie tries, but ultimately fails, to bring some subplots about the seedier aspects of Knievel's life to the forefront in a couple of scenes but they're poorly handled and the dialogue throughout the majority of the movie sounds ridden with clichés and is almost painful to listen to. Add to that the fact that the recreated stunts used in the film look painfully phony (not helped by the low budget, obviously) and everything you wanted out of a serious Evil Knievel movie has more or less been sufficiently tossed out the window. The big finale of Knievel's career, the infamous Snake River Canyon jump where he crashed and got seriously injured, is handled so poorly in the CGI department that it almost looks like a cartoon. A lack of any real biographical detail doesn't help anything either – not much time is spent developing Evel as a character, giving us the required background information on him to make him interesting to us. His childhood is skimmed over haphazardly and the movie rushes very, very quickly to get us to the point where he's jumping professionally that it leaves out the interesting details of his earlier years.
I'll give Eads credit where credit is due, however. He nailed the look and mannerisms of Mr. Knievel pretty well and he doesn't do a bad job with the accent (he was born in Texas, Knievel in Montana). Small supporting roles from the lovely Jamie Presely (as Evel's wife Linda) and the omni-present Lance Henrickson are fun, but ultimately not enough to save this dog.
Though this one was made for cable TV, it was composed to be shown 1.78.1 widescreen and that's how we get it. The transfer from Warner Brother's is enhanced for anamorphic television sets and flagged for progressive scan. Overall, though the low budget is made all the more obvious in a few scenes by the clarity, this is a nice transfer. There's some mild edge enhancement and moderate shimmering in some spots but there's virtually no print damage to speak or nor are there any problems with mpeg compression artifacts. Colors look strong and bright, skin tones look lifelike and natural, and there's a decent enough level of both foreground and background detail present throughout the image.
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound mix sounds decent enough and it exhibits some nicely executed instances of channel separation and some nice bass response in the lower end. Dialogue stays strong and concise and you won't have any problems understanding any of the performers. Aside from a couple of scenes that are just a tad on the flat side (some of the quieter moments in the film lack depth) this mix is good stuff. Optional subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish and closed captions are available in English.
Aside from a couple of preview trailers for unrelated DVDs also available from Warner Brothers, the only supplement at all on this release comes to us in the form of a feature length commentary track from star George Eads and the movie's director, John Badham. In their defense, this commentary is actually marginally more interesting than the feature itself and it does a pretty good job of balancing the technical side of the production's history with the requisite anecdotes and behind the scenes stories. They go into a little bit of detail about the stunts and even offer up some tidbits about the real Evel Knievel here and there. While it doesn't make the movie any better, at least the commentary doesn't hurt anything.
It's a real shame that this one didn't turn out to be a better film. Though light on extra features, Warner's DVD looks and sounds pretty good but that doesn't make the film any less dull and for that reason (and this hurts me more than you'll ever know) Evel Knievel gets slapped outside the head with the ol' skip it stamp.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.