×

Evel Knievel

Another one of those biopics that provides a collection of scenes as opposed to a cohesive portrait, "Evel Knievel" affords George Eads a chance to display his stellar abs, but that's about it. It would be hard to top the two 1970s biographies starring George Hamilton and then Knievel himself, but this look at the hardscrabble Montana kid who climbed aboard a motorcycle never takes off.

With:
Evel Knievel - George Eads Linda Bork - Jaime Pressly John Bork - Beau Bridges Awful Knoffel - Lance Henriksen Phil - Matt Gordon Jay Sarno - Fred Dalton Thompson

Another one of those biopics that provides a collection of scenes as opposed to a cohesive portrait, “Evel Knievel” affords George Eads a chance to display his stellar abs, but that’s about it. For sheer comic relief, it would be hard to top the two 1970s biographies starring George Hamilton and then Knievel himself, but this look at the hardscrabble Montana kid who climbed aboard a motorcycle and became “the most recognized man in America” never takes off. Although easily promotable, the movie barely justifies preempting TNT’s ubiquitous “Law & Order” reruns.

Opening with Knievel’s ill-fated attempt to leap the fountains at Caesars Palace, the narrative quickly flashes back to his rambunctious youth, spending a good deal of time on his courtship of eventual wife Linda (Jaime Pressly).

Parlaying his motorcycle-riding skills into a daredevil act, the story pretty quickly finds Knievel rich and famous, becoming a hard-livin’, hard-drinkin’, philandering type who charmingly evicts a sexual conquest from his trailer with the “Jerry Springer”-worthy line, “You’ll have something to tell your grandkids.”

If veteran director John Badham’s name raises expectations, alas, there’s not much Friday-night fever to be found here. Working from a book about Knievel, Badham and writer Jason Horwitch essentially deliver an episodic guide to his life, from the perilous crash in Vegas to the embarrassing Snake River canyon stunt in an ersatz rocket.

“Loved by millions, understood by few,” say the liner notes on TNT’s press materials, and a few scattered moments of insight emerge, such as Knievel describing his symbiotic relationship with the crowds that come out half-hoping to see his brains splattered across the pavement. “If it wasn’t for me, they wouldn’t have anything to do, and if it wasn’t for them, I’d be in jail or dead,” he observes.

Yet despite a “Taxi Driver”-lite scene where Knievel talks to himself in the mirror, the movie never penetrates the polyester suits or spans the chasm to reveal what makes him tick. Yes, Knievel becomes rich, buys a mansion resembling something in a reality dating show and relishes staring death in the face, but beyond that all we learn is that he’s adept at peeing outdoors, which he’s shown doing twice.

Nor do any of the other characters resonate, with WB Net fave Pressly doing little more than look smashing and Beau Bridges struggling to fill out a thinly drawn role as her gruff dad.

Eads possesses a certain easygoing charm, good looks and even his own daredevil skills, considering the actor and his reps dared piss off CBS honcho Leslie Moonves in a recent contract dispute over “CSI.” With apologies to the women-in-the-penitentiary Internet contingent that lobbied for Eads’ reinstatement, for a series’ third banana that takes some guts.

From a historical perspective, the fascination with Knievel’s death-defying feats does offer a snapshot of that period, though in terms of public appetites, little has changed. Demonstrating as much, TNT will cash in by televising Robbie Knievel’s latest leap in conjunction with his dad’s biography — a bit of scheduling that actually exhibits more creativity than the movie itself.

Popular on Variety

Evel Knievel

TNT, Fri. July 30, 8 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Toronto by Icon Prods., Apollo ProScreen Filmproduktion and Jaffe/Braunstein Films. Executive producers, Bruce Davey, Michael Jaffe, Howard Braunstein, Jan Korbelin; producers, Clara George, Nancy Cotton; co-producers, Eveleen Bandy, Jason Horwitch; director, John Badham; writer, Horwitch, based on the book by Steve Mandich.

Crew: Camera, Ron Stannett; editor, Frank Morriss; music, Stewart Copeland; production designer, Eric Fraser; casting, Richard Hicks, Mark Scott. 120 MIN.

Cast: Evel Knievel - George Eads Linda Bork - Jaime Pressly John Bork - Beau Bridges Awful Knoffel - Lance Henriksen Phil - Matt Gordon Jay Sarno - Fred Dalton Thompson

More TV

  • Ballers HBO

    'Ballers' to End After Season 5 on HBO

    “Ballers” is coming to an end after five seasons on HBO. Star and executive producer Dwayne Johnson confirmed the news via an emotional Instagram video. “My heart is full of gratitude to all of you for rocking with us every season. You made us HBO’s highest rated comedy for years and most importantly, you helped [...]

  • Sublime Primetime

    How Emmy-Nominated Writers’ Rooms Keep Politics in Mind

    In a world filled with elections, social movements and national tragedies, how open should the doors of a writers’ room actually be? For some of this year’s Emmy-nominated shows, those doors are wide open. Before the 71st annual Primetime Emmy Awards air on Sept. 22, the Writers Guild of America West and Writers Guild Foundation, [...]

  • Disney Villains Series 'Book of Enchantment'

    'Book of Enchantment' Series Based on Iconic Disney Villains Shelved at Disney Plus

    Disney Plus has decided to not move forward with “Book of Enchantment,” a series based on some of Disney’s most iconic villains, Variety has learned from sources. The news comes the day before Disney is set to unveil its streaming service at the biannual D23 convention in Anaheim. The prospective project was based on the [...]

  • ITV STUDIOS PRESENTS VERAFILM 2Pictured: BRENDA

    Brenda Blethyn to Star in New ITV Sitcom 'Kate and Kolo'

    Oscar-nominated Brenda Blethyn is set to star in the new sitcom “Kate and Kolo” for ITV, the U.K. broadcaster announced at the Edinburgh TV Festival. Blethyn takes on the title role of Kate in the comedy alongside theater and film actor Jimmy Akingbola as Kolo. Blethyn is a popular star with ITV audiences after having [...]

  • Sean Spicer Emmys

    Sean Spicer's Casting Explained? Red States Love 'Dancing With the Stars'

    ABC faced backlash this week after casting former White House press secretary Sean Spicer on “Dancing with the Stars.” But that outrage might actually spice up the dancing competition’s dwindling ratings — particularly in Trump Country. “Dancing with the Stars” has faced a relatively alarming decline in ratings over the past two cycles, falling 32% [...]

  • Peppa Pig

    Hasbro Acquires Entertainment One in $4 Billion All-Cash Deal

    Toymaker Hasbro is acquiring studio Entertainment One in an all-cash transaction valued at $4 billion, bringing My Little Pony and Nerf under the same umbrella as “Peppa Pig” and “PJ Masks” and furthering Hasbro’s growth goals in the infant and preschool categories. Hasbro aims to expand its operations in film and TV. Entertainment One’s production [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content