Like 42, the 2013 Jackie Robinson baseball integration pic, the story of Track & Field legend Jesse Owens’ heart-stopping victories at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany gets aimed squarely at 5th Graders. But where 42 was too corny to sit thru, this even more unlikely tale of triumph over racial prejudice is so spectacularly flatfooted you can’t stop watching. TV director Stephen Hopkins proves a triple-threat with wan period recreations boasting cheap CGI backgrounds; suspense-free races (the staging!, the angles!, the editing!, the pacing!); all topped with dead-to-the-touch acting. Who the hell gets a bad perf out of Jeremy Irons? Will track coach Jason Sudeikis sound insincere on every line?* And couldn’t they find a Jesse Owens to transform from gawky-athlete-at-rest to graceful-gazelle-in-flight? Things improve slightly at the Berlin Games, how could they not? But why the kid-gloves treatment for controversial Nazi documentarian Leni Riefenstahl? They do manage an effective little scene for David Kross’s German athlete & Owens, but we’re soon back to the track to screw up a final flourish as Owens steps in to run relay for a banned Jewish athlete. Really, how can you blow this story?
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Riefenstahl’s famous OLYMPIA/’38 documentary is the longest, artsy-ist Sports Newsreel ever made. And with a kitschy faux-Greek Games prologue that many take seriously. (Check out the tasteful ‘nude’ look on the ‘ancient’ athletes.)
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Sudeikis is the rare actor who flunks the Fedora Test which holds that any contemporary actor who can pull off wearing a fedora should be able to act whatever’s going on underneath it.