For the High Jump
It doesn't take you long to realise what "Viva Knievel!" is all about as we watch Evel Knievel sneak into a home for sick boys to hand out gifts, yes those gifts are his brand of toys, and then he charms Sister Charity who catches him. Yes this is all about the great stunt rider being the all American hero who stands up against drugs, has women swoon after him and is an idol to young boys who dream of pulling jumps and wheelies like the great one. Sadly it means that whilst "Viva Knievel!" does have a plotline about dodgy drug dealings it is incredibly weak and almost an after thought. Yes and that sadly means that "Viva Knievel!" is a bad movie, a clunky piece of hero worship which watching now over 35 years after it was released is cheesy.
All American hero Evel Knievel considers quitting as a stuntman when a fall leaves him in hospital with more broken bones. But he quickly changes his mind partly because young stunt rider Jessie (Marjoe Gortner) wants him to take part in a series of jumps in Mexico but also he doesn't want to let his fans down including young Tommy (Eric Olson) the estranged son on his chief mechanic Will Atkins (Gene Kelly - Singin' in the Rain). But unbeknown to Evel is that he is being set up as corrupt businessman is using Jessie to get Evel to perform in Mexico so that they can stage a fatal accident and then transport drugs back to America in his trailer, something which Will discovers but finds himself thrown into an institution for a supposed drug addiction before he can tell Evel.
So I've already mentioned how "Viva Knievel!" opens with Evel being a hero to young boys, dishing out his toys as if he was some sort of Santa Claus figure and much of the first half is all about Evel and his persona. I say his persona because what is portrayed on screen is a man with a big ego who thinks he can charm any woman he likes including tough photographer Kate. Maybe that was how Evel was, I don't really remember him from his heyday to agree or disagree but it does make it a bit cheesy. Add to this the whole all American hero who before a jump talks to a crowd about the evil of drugs and whilst you can sense the message was good the delivery was corny.
This first half is not just about Evel being a hero with an eye for a beautiful woman because "Viva Knievel!" also stars Gene Kelly as his chief engineer and lifelong friend Will and we have this story of Will not only being estranged from his son Tommy but also a hard drinker. It ends up a storyline as cheesy as the rest of the movie as we discover why Tommy not only does not get on with his young son but also drinks. And sadly it most certainly fails to exploit the talents of Gene Kelly who often looks like he is struggling to control his laughter when he has some cheesy lines to deliver. And Kelly is not the only one as Lauren Hutton also seems to be trying to stay in control as love interest Kate.
Of course we have the other storyline of a corrupt business man planning to kill Evel in a fatal accident in order to transport drugs back to America. Why, well we never really get a solid reasoning but then this storyline is so incredibly weak that there are more holes than plot.
What is the most disappointing thing is that for a movie about one the greatest daredevils the action ends up feeling sparse. There is a trio of jumps, a few wheelies, some stunt riding up and down some steps as well as a chase sequence but none of it has any real excitement. What is worse is when you learn that some of the stunt riding was performed by stuntman Gary Lee Davis rather than Evel Knievel himself.
What this all boils down to is that "Viva Knievel!" is sadly a poor movie, a bit of hero worshipping which suffers from numerous problems none more so than the lack of a solid plot. It almost now feels like a movie which is more entertaining for what is bad about it rather than for what is good.