The phenomenon surrounding motorcycle daredevil Bobby "Evel" Knievel is one of those things that strike a nostalgic chord in anyone old enough to remember Bicentennial Minutes. Evel Knievel is one of those uniquely American oddities that should make us all collectively shake our heads and ask, "What the hell were we thinking?"
A brief history lesson: Knievel was a guy who became famous in the late 1960s and early 1970s for jumping his motorcycle over things. First it was things like cages full of rattlesnakes, then the fountains at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, and then, most famously, the Snake River Canyon in Idaho. The thing is, Knievel had his triumphs but is at least as well-known for his failures, which include the Snake River Canyon fiasco (what a joke that was!), and the Caesar's Palace jump, which left him with multiple broken bones and in a coma for 29 days. But hey, this is America, where even a nutty guy who unsuccessfully jumps his motorcycle over things can become a rich celebrity.
In the new made for TNT movie, Evel Knievel, CSI's George Eads stars as the interesting footnote in American pop culture. Eads--looking like a blond Kurt Russell in the made-for-television movie Elvis--plays Knievel as a hard-drinking, womanizing family man, driven by the overwhelming desire to...well...jump things with his motorcycle. Where some men want to fly to the moon, or find a cure for cancer, some apparently only want to open the throttle and catch a little air.
Unfolding with the standard trappings of any biopic, Evel Knievel opens with the daredevil as he's about to jump the fountains at Caesar's Palace. As he faces the pivotal moment of his life, he does what every subject of a biopic does--he flashes back on his past and the events that led to this moment. Among the things he ponders as he prepares to defy death are his lawless youth in Montana, how he met his wife (played by Jaime Pressly), and how he almost died trying to jump some rattlesnakes (sort of like how the Fonz almost died while jumping the shark). After the Caesar's Palace mishap, Knievel becomes an even bigger star, complete with his own line of toys (those must be worth something on eBay) and film deals. But then it falls apart, as is apt to happen with boozing skirt-chasers who can't even spell "evil."
Directing with little style or flair, John Badham (Saturday Night Fever) seems determined to keep reminding you that the movie is made for TV. Eads gives a decent performance, but thanks to an uninspired script, he could just as easily be playing Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, or any other redneck bestowed with fame and fortune.
TNT, 8 pm Friday and Sunday, July 30 and Aug. 1; 9 pm Saturday, July 31.