Evel Knievel (2004)

What possesses a man to regularly risk his life in feats of daredevilry?  Linda Knievel believes her husband craves love and attention. Filmmaker John Derek wonders if he has a death wish, whereas the owner of Caesar’s Palace argues he has a money wish. Evel himself gives the impression it’s a chance to prove himself, asking “Are you man enough?” before each jump. Whatever drives him on, the answer won’t be found in this cursory biopic, depicting Knievel’s life story without providing any real insight into this unique individual.

 

After a misspent youth brushing up against the law, Evel cashes in on his wild side by performing motorcycle tricks in the streets of Butte, Montana. A young family doesn’t so much make him more responsible as more entrepreneurial. Soon he is charging the townsfolk $1 a ticket to see him jump over cougars and snakes, and then he hustles the owner of Caesar’s Palace into letting him jump over its fountains. Now the money is really rolling in! Celebrated in film, song and toys, Evel’s newfound fame and fortune presents him with the unfortunate opportunity to wallow in the excesses of his unremitting recklessness.

CSI’s George Eads finds himself in the familiar surrounds of Las Vegas for the Caesar's Palace jump, and remains comfortably relaxed throughout his portrayal of Evel, cocky but not annoyingly so. Veterans Beau Bridges, Lance Henriksen and Fred Dalton Thompson lend good support, each making the most of their small roles. Yet the standout performance comes from Jaime Pressly, who infuses her role as Evel’s long suffering wife with a refreshing take-no-prisoners attitude.

Evel Knievel has been director John Badham’s last feature film to date. Responsible for such popular fare as Saturday Night Fever (1977), WarGames (1983), Short Circuit (1986) and Stakeout (1987), here Badham turns in a journeyman effort to produce a mildly entertaining film. Though the movie finishes with a list of Knievel’s record of achievements, it is the accompanying unedifying voiceover which reveals more about Evel than anything in the preceding ninety minutes.

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Though Evel did hit a crate of rattlesnakes on his first jump, he did manage to continue onto the ramp, rather than crashing at its base.

Biopic recreates several of Evel’s stunts, including the Caesar’s Palace and Snake River Canyon jumps. Sadly, there are no scene recreations from Viva Knievel (1977), in which Evel starred opposite Gene Kelly, Red Buttons and Leslie Nielsen (!?)

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