TNT’s Evel Knievel Movie, 2004

This post originally appeared on my other site the now defunct Super Cycles. We mourn the passing of Evel Knievel. To honor the great daredevil, let’s take a look at one of the several films about his life.

Made for TNT in 2004, Evel Knievel, gives Knievel’s career a Boogie Nights treatment. The film was based on the book Evel Incarnate: The Life and Legend of Evel Knievel by Steven Mandich. In the opening of the movie we see Evel (played by George Eads of CSI) getting ready for his jump over Caesar’s Fountain in Las Vegas in 1968. Many of the quick cuts were taken from actual footage, while others throughout the film were accurately reproduced right down to the old ABC TV logo. It’s fast pace and exciting atmosphere is what made me enjoy this film.

The film didn’t waste time with tons of back story. The plot was set and ready to go rapidly as if it was Evel preparing the crowd for one of his jumps. Starting in his early years, little Bobby Knievel was a risk taker. He was getting caught stealing hubcaps and bicycling away from the cops. As he got older he quit his steady paycheck at the coal mine so he could open his own Motorcycle shop. He even advertised a FREE motorcycle to anyone who could beat him in arm wrestling. Knievel thrived on attention.
While performing a few bike stunts and collecting some cash, he caught the eye of the lovely Linda Bork (Jaime Pressly.) Bork quickly fell for Knievel and the mystery and thrills that went along with him. The money was flowing in once he made the deal with Caesar’s to jump the fountains. Right after his wipe out at Caesar’s, Bork stood by Knievel throughout his 29 day coma. He was told he wouldn’t be able to walk or ever ride a bike again. Knievel was too strong and he wouldn’t hear any of that nonsense. There were many references to Steve Mcqueen while Evel took a potshot at John Wayne: “Tell him I said he’s a wuss.” Knievel clearly wasn’t afraid of anything. Evel occasionally came out with some pretty prolific quotes like “A jump is like an orgasm” or “Nothing could kill me, I’m Evel Knievel.” You’d have to think he was an adrenaline junky. When one reporter questioned him about the fact that kids were trying to duplicate his stunts he explained that kids”shouldn’t hide or cower from life.”

Thankfully there was a light atmosphere throughout the film, even though there was surely some dark moments in Knievel’s life. There were a few times when the deleterious effects of his fame were explored. Evel would drink heavily, and cheat on his wife, even with one of her old friends. When not flying into a fit of rage, Knievel kept his sense of humor in the press conferences shown in the film. Knievel was frequently shown urinating in random places, which may have been because he was constantly drinking throughout the film.

Pressly made us feel like Bork was the heart and soul behind Knievel. Eads was a perfect fit into Knievel’s legendary jumpsuit but he would still be drinking beers and eating nuts on the couch if Pressly’s Bork didn’t rev up his engine when he ran out of gas. Through Knievel’s injuries and adulteries, Bork was loyal and Pressly did a fine job at portraying her. When the Snake River jump failed, it didn’t seem like that much of a loss. Knievel was upset and Eads made us feel it but it didn’t seem like he was really all that pissed because it didn’t take very long to pull himself back up and try another jump. This is what made Knievel stand out from the crowd. Whether he kept going back for the money or the rush of it all is questionable.

This film gave us a unique insight about how surreal it must have been for Knievel at that time. Knievel gained a huge loyal fan base and visited arenas all over the country to showcase his stunts. The Ballad of Evel Knievel played on a jukebox while he was in a bar and Evel gazed up at a theater marquee that was playing Even Knievel starring George Hamilton. It was also a treat to watch a meeting with Ideal toys where one employee pitches an Even Knievel action figure. (Evel wasn’t sure to call it a “doll” or an “action figure.”) When the movie followed Evel’s rapid rise to fame and the decadence of mansions and women it reminded me of Boogie Nights.

TNT’s Evel Knievel proves to be exciting, entertaining, and humorous. If you’re a Knievel fan I doubt you missed this one when it aired on TNT, but if not, it’s available on DVD. In it, you’ll see a nail biting recreation of the Snake River Canyon jump and other faithful re-creations of Evel’s classic stunts. At the end, facts about Knievel’s career appear on the screen during his jump over 14 school buses. Just a few of the facts they mentioned are that he’s performed over 300 jumps and he holds the Guiness Record for most broken bones. Broken bones aside, what I took away from this film is that if you don’t even try to accomplish your goal you never will. First, decide on what you want, and keep trying even though you may fail a few times. No matter how hard you think the obstacle is, you have to persevere. Because of his extreme stunts and his never say die attitude, the spectacle Evel Knievel created will be always remembered by fans everywhere.