by Scott Weinberg
Early on in his career, Robert Redford excelled in these 'confident mellow guy' roles, and although he almost always gives a performance worth watching, that's not saying that he always chose the best scripts. This one is a surprisingly familiar and cliche-ridden snow drama recommendable only to hardcore Redford freaks.Downhill Racer is a movie I'd always sort of wanted to see. I remember the video box from when I was but a wee little critic. It was blue and it looked kinda flashy. As I got a little older (and balder), I learned a little more about the movie, such as that it was directed by one of my favorites - Michael Ritchie. Yeah yeah, Spielberg's and genius and Scorsese is a god, but I have a handful of directors I am very loyal to, and Ritchie is on the top of the heap. Chronologically (and in date order), Ritchie has directed the following comedies:
"Robert Redford as the world's most unlikable skier!"
Smile (1975): A truly biting and funny satire on the world of beauty pageants, more than twenty years before Denise Richards shook her pom-poms in Drop Dead Gorgeous. If you can catch this one on cable, do it and thank me later.
The Bad News Bears (1976): Show me someone who doesn't love this movie, and I'll show you some who does: Me! Walter Matthau is at his crotchety best, and I love how all the little stereotype kids fall down a lot. Funny.
Semi-Tough (1978): Extremely underrated football comedy starring Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson. Despite those guys being the stars, I can whole-heartedly recommend this one, especially to my fellow NFL addicts.
The Island (1980): One of the funniest drama films ever made, this one tells the story of Michael Caine discovering a lost tribe of pirates on...you guessed it...the island.
Hey Scott...I thought I was reading a review of ONE movie, not some diatribe on Michael Ritchie that you obviously stole from IMDb!
OK, I'm getting to it. There's a method to my madness. Where'd I leave off? Oh, yeah:
Divine Madness (1980): Just how successful can a director get? Well, not everyone gets the chance to direct a Bette Midler concert film. Ritchie did.
Student Bodies (1981): He had his name stricken from the credits, and if you've ever seen this atrocious horror spoof, then you know why. This one makes Scary Movie look like The English Patient. As a matter of fact, Student Bodies is so bad, that of course I loved it.
The Survivors (1983): Easily one of the most underrated comedies of the eighties, this one stars Walter Matthau, Robin Williams and Jerry Reed(!), and it's a fast-paced and funny little social satire. Another one to look for when the New Release rack starts lookin' slim.
Fletch (1985): Yes, this guy directed Fletch, and that automatically makes him a genius. Of course, he tried to refute such genius by also helming Fletch Lives a few years later, but hey...everyone's get to pay the rent.
Wildcats (1986): Yes, that Goldie Hawn football movie that also featured Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson as young perverted football players. I just love this movie, plus any director who hires Nipsey Russell for a supporting role knows what he's doing.
The Golden Child (1986): For a movie that is allegedly hated so strongly, I know very few critics who actually dislike this silly Eddie Murphy adventure. Just for the "I Want The Knife" gag, this one is worth seeing, plus there are tons of groovy FX, including the all-time best product placement ever: the animated dancing Coke can.
Jeez, Scott...How many movies has this guy directed? It's not like he's John Ford, you know!
I'm getting to it! I am a professional writer you know...just trust that I'm trying to make a point.
The Couch Trip (1988): One of those wacky mistaken identity comedies that were so popular in the late eighties, this enjoyable junk stars Dan Aykroyd, Walter Matthau (again!), Charles Grodin, Victoria Jackson, Arye Gross, Donna Dixon, Mary Gross and Richard Romanus! If that's not a cavalcade of stars, then maybe I'm using the word 'cavalcade' wrong.
Diggstown (1991): To date, this is Ritchie's last good movie, but it's one HECK of a good movie. Con-men, all-night boxing, James Woods, Bruce Dern, Oliver Platt, Lou Gossett and Heather Graham. With a nice twist at the end. Trust me on this one. Rent Diggstown.
OK, so I've chosen to leave a few of his more recent movies off the list, mainly because they suck butt. (My apologies to the nine people who liked The Scout, A Simple Wish or Cops and Robbersons.) But I told you all about the comedies of Michael Ritchie just so I could tell you this one thing about Downhill Racer:
It's not a comedy.
What it IS is a dreary and slow little drama about (no peeking, now) a downhill...racer. A skier, to be exact, played by none other than a young Robert Redford. As Dave Chappellet, Bob plays it in two speeds: surly and sleepy. I was surprised to see how mellow he was in this movie, until I realized Hey! Redford's always been surly and sleepy! Seriously, I can't remember him ever even raising his voice in a movie, let alone cracking a smile.
As his bull-headed skiing coach, we get the ever-reliable Gene Hackman (if you need me to list a movie that Hackman was in, I don't think I want you reading my reviews anymore). Beyond these two actors, your guess is as good as mine. There was a pretty French girl in the movie, but that's not to say she's an actress necessarily.
So skier David is cocky and confident. He whines when he doesn't get to start the race with the top ten competitors. When he does finally get a shot, he falls down while racing and blames the 'crusty snow'. At every turn, Hackman is on hand to say stuff like "There is no C-H-A-P-P-E-L-L-E-T in TEAM!" and "Boy, you're a fast skier".
There's simply no plot. Skier tries. Skier fails. Skier learns. Skier grows inside and makes whooppee with slutty French girl. Skier whines. Skier dumps Frenchy. Skier struggles through an 'adversity montage sequence'. Skier succeeds. Credits roll.
All the things that make Michael Ritchie such a strong comic director are absent here, which is exactly what makes this dramatic piffle such a chore to sit through. (See, I told you that stupid list of comedies had a point!) To be fair, several of the skiing sequences are quite breathtaking, but I can see that on Wide World of Sports, only the broken bones are real.While I realize that Downhill Racer is to skiers what The Endless Summer is to surfers, that doesn't make it work for me. You've seen all this before, only with less snow.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4605&reviewer=128
originally posted: 12/11/00 13:53:51