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Review: Being Evel

Being Evel
08.16.2015
8 10
 

PLOT: The flamboyant life and times of legendary motorcycle stunt rider Evel Knievel.

REVIEW: You can’t help but be fascinated by the Evel Knievel legacy. Even though I was born years after he retired from stunt jumps I heard tons of stories about him growing up, and I remember once catching his lone (terrible) Hollywood vehicle on cable, VIVA KNIEVEL, which featured him battling baddies (led by a pre-NAKED GUN Leslie Nielsen) on his rocket powered motorcycle with none other than Gene Kelly as his sidekick. If you’re into the Jackass phenomenon, you should at least know something about the man, but whether you have or not, BEING EVEL is a fun and fast-paced look at this seventies phenomenon.

 

This is actually the second Evel Knievel documentary I’ve seen, with I AM EVEL KNIEVEL having played on cable last year. While that was a celebratory homage, BEING EVEL is a far-more warts-and-all look at this exceedingly complicated man. While he was a badass on a bike and had an undeniable knack for self-promotion, off-stage he could be a bully and a womanizer, something that’s not downplayed at all with unflattering b-roll footage and audio tapes of Knievel freaking out on his friends and reporters.

But, like Johnny Knoxville (who produced) says towards the end, “we need our heroes” and it’s easy to see why Knievel inspired so many kids growing up in that era. Back then, fans rarely got the kind of behind-the-curtain look they get now, so I’m sure Knievel seemed like a hell of a guy. The doc clearly demonstrates how he made himself from nothing, and despite all of his faults, at the height of his popularity Knievel presented a squeaky clean (if false) image to his fans, urging them not to touch drugs (booze and chicks was ok though) and to always wear a helmet while riding.

As creative as the Jackass stunts are, they’re nowhere near as badass as some of the stunts Knievel pulled off on bikes that no-one in their right mind would ever try and jump now. Knievel’s own son, Robbie – who’s a stunt rider in his own right – pays homage to his dad but rides on bikes designed to pull off these kinds of jumps. Knievel just did it all on faith in his ability to heal if things went wrong – which they often did.

 
 

The footage director Daniel Junge has culled is impressive, with ghastly close-ups of Knievel’s many wipe-outs. The most interesting part of the doc is without a doubt the section on the Snake River Canyon jump, the fallout from which arguably destroyed his career. The Simpsons’ episode where Bart tries to jump Springfield Gorge pays homage to this infamous stunt, where Knievel bought his own canyon to jump with a rocket after being denied a chance to jump the Grand Canyon. We see how it turned into a media circus, with Knievel treating the press like his mortal enemies, while his real foes, the Hell’s Angels, turned it into another Altamont – before the jump even happened. The aftermath to the whole thing is quite sad, with Knievel doing a stint in prison for an assault brought on by the stunt’s fallout, and his rep being ruined. It’s a pretty wild showbiz tale, and Junge tells it in an exciting, gripping way even hitting a bittersweet note or two towards the end.

Regardless of what you think of Knievel (if you’ve even heard of him) this is a fascinating doc with great anecdotes (including an awesome story by biopic star George Hamilton – who had a gun pulled on him by Knievel), crazy footage and energy to burn. If you like the 30 for 30 films, this is definitely for you.

Source: JoBlo.com

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