• Viva Knievel (Warner Brothers) DVD Review

    Released by: Warner Brothers
    Released on: May 31st, 2005.
    Director: Gordon Douglas
    Cast: Evel Knievel, Gene Kelly, Lauren Hutton, Red Buttons, Leslie Nielsen, Cameron Mitchell, Frank Gifford, Marjoe Gortner
    Year: 1977
    Purchase From Amazon

    Viva Knievel - Movie Review:

    God bless you, Evel Knievel. God bless you for having the balls to stretch your wings and fly out of the stunt bike circle you made your own and onto the big screen (and subsequently into the hearts and minds of people all over the world). It takes a real man to get up in front of the camera and make a movie with absolutely no acting ability at all, and you did it – for that, your millions of fans around the globe are eternally grateful.

    After inspiring a crippled child to throw down his crutches and walk, world famous stuntman Evel Knievel (playing himself in his big screen debut) heads off to the arena in California where he intends to give the fans what they want by jumping one hundred and fifty feet over a cage full of wild lions and tigers. After giving a speech about why you should say no to drugs (by comparing the human body to a nitro burning funny-car that blows all to Hell!) and hanging out with Frank Gifford (playing himself), Evel makes the jump but bails on the landing causing him to tell a disappointed crowd that they've seen his last jump.

    Luckily for the world, a rogue photographer named Kate Morgan (Lauren Hutton who played opposite James Caan in The Gambler, not to be confused with the Kenny Rogers masterpiece of the same name) is there to offer her support for him, despite the fact that she's a feminist and he's from the old school. Meanwhile, Evel's drunken mechanic, Will Atkins (Gene Kelly of Singin' In The Rain) and his son are having to sort out their issues and try to rekindle their relationship.

    When Evel finally gets back on the bike, his promoters setup a show for him in Mexico, but soon it comes to pass, thanks to his top rival – a kid named Jesse (Marjoe Gortner of American Ninja 3) – that three of the people Evel thought he could trust – Ben, Stanley and Barton (played by the powerful threesome of Red Buttons, Leslie Neilson and Cameron Mitchell respectively) actually intend to kill him so that they can smuggle back fifty million dollars’ worth of Mexican cocaine using his corpse and his big rig.

    Also known as Seconds To Live, this one was helmed by prolific action movie director Gordon Douglas, the man responsible for films as varied as Slaughter's Big Rip Off to They Call Me Mr. Tibbs! to Lady In Cement. It would prove to be Douglas' swansong, and what a way to go out in style – grand style. The stamp of Evel Knievel is all over this turkey, from the fashions (there are so many butterfly collars of such vast sizes and shapes that you would kill yourself if you were ever to make a drinking game out of this…) to the flare (everything in Evel's possession is red, white and blue) to the non-acting (Evel makes Chuck Norris look like he has range) to the sideburns (ah yes, the sideburns).

    But lest you think this show coasts by on the strength of Evel's undeniable screen presence alone, look again – this bad boy has a fantastic cult movie cast! Leslie Neilson as the bad guy? He's about as far removed from Lt. Frank Drebin as you can get in this film, and it's a blast to see him cruising through the Mexican desert in a vintage Porsche 911 shooting at people as he goes. Cameron Mitchell? Yeah, that creepy guy from The Toolbox Murders is in here too, helping Neilson in his evil scheme – and so is goofy standup comedian Red Buttons! Look for the instantly recognizable Dabney Coleman in here too, along with Sidney Clute who I like to think is best known for his performance alongside Joe Don Baker in Mitchell - proving once again that when the chips are down, it all boils down to Joe Don.

    While the story is really dumb (at one point Evel rides his Skycycle into a sanitarium to shoot the locks off a cell door and free his friend!) and about as believable as Wilt Chamberlain's autobiography, the film is filled with so many memorable moments of unintentional hilarity that it remains an amazingly entertaining ego project that truly deserves its place in cult movie history. If you've ever wanted to see Evel Knievel 'act' (and if you haven't, you should) here's your chance. Sadly, it was the only feature film in which he played a starring role but damn it, it's a good one. To sweeten the deal, the filmmaker's got Mr. Charles Bernstein to provide the catchiest Knievel themed disco anthem possible to the film's soundtrack.

    Viva Knievel - DVD Review:

    Viva Knievel gets an amazingly good 2.40.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks fantastic by the standards of a DVD fast approaching its twentieth birthday. There is a little bit of shimmering and a little bit of edge enhancement in a few scenes, and you'll also notice the odd speck on the print here and there but aside from that (and none of those issues are really upsetting at all), the film looks great. The colors are bright and clean and bold, there's no major print damage, flesh tones look lifelike and natural and the black levels stay strong and deep. There are no problems with mpeg compression and there's a very nice, surprisingly high, level of detail present in both the foreground and the background of the picture. I've got to give Warner Brothers credit – I didn't expect much from this film in terms of presentation and they really caught me off guard with this one, it really does look great (aside from one or two obvious stock footage/archival footage inserts).

    You've got your choice of watching the film in its original Dolby Digital Mono sound mix, or in a dubbed Dolby Digital Mono French mix. Subtitles are provided in English, French and Spanish and there is an English closed captioning option provided as well.

    While the audio isn't as good as the video is on this DVD, it's still sufficient. The problem with the track is that some of the sound effects are a lot louder than the dialogue. Obviously in real life, a motorcycle is louder than a babbling little kid but on this mix, you just might find yourself reaching for your remote during the bike scenes to turn your receiver down, and then turning it back up once those scenes are done. Other than that though, the mix is fine. There aren't any problems with hiss or distortion and the film's amazing musical scores sounds sufficiently funky.

    The only extra feature available off of the menu screen is the film's original theatrical trailer, which is presented in anamorphic widescreen though the print quality looks pretty rough. It's a fun trailer and it's interesting to see how it plays up on the action scenes in the film. It's also makes great use of that catchy theme song again.

    Viva Knievel - The Final Word:

    Viva Knievel is the campiest of camp classics. Gratuitous Frank Gifford footage, butterfly collars the size of hang-gliders, and more motorcycle action than you can shake a red, white and blue stick at coupled with Evel Knievel's fantastic non-acting make the film endlessly enjoyable on many different levels. While the short changing in the extra features is a disappointment, the film looks fantastic and this DVD still comes highly recommended (and yes, I really do mean that). Strap on your insanely patriotic jumpsuits and pick this one up now!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Spaghetti Monkey's Avatar
      Spaghetti Monkey -
      Hahah, fantastic example of not good, but fun. Oh, so fun. I think i know what i'm watching tonight.
    1. chriszilla's Avatar
      chriszilla -
      That cast is pure gold! I've never seen this, but now feel that I need to.

      There appear to be several reasons a cult movie fan would want to seek this one out, but I imagine that the presence of: 1) Leslie Nielsen as a heavy; 2) Evel's fashion sense; and 3) (hopefully plenty of) motorcycle stunt footage alone make this worthwhile!

      Thanks to you, at least one more copy of this DVD will be sold this week!