After the Vietnam War, America hankered for the simple pleasure of watching a working class guy risk violent death for no good reason…hmm…maybe there’s a better way of putting that.
If there was, Viva Kenievel never found it. It’s a movie that seems to have come into existence thanks to three powerful forces: America’s love affair with pudgy, sweaty, middle aged daredevils jumping motorcycles over stuff, Lauren Hutton’s need for a demo reel, and Gene Kelly’s desire to pick up a few bucks on a gig close to home.
Not that the movie doesn’t deliver on a promise, sort of. The title promises lots of Evel Kenievel, and by jingo by gum it serves up as many big, beefy slabs of him as you can take. And Evel doesn’t just jump stuff over other stuff, or crash stuff into stuff either. Oh, no. Evel Kenievel fixes broken father-son relationships, beds hot reporters, foils drug smugglers, and heals the lame(!). That’s right, the guy with the bed head and the silly suit isn’t a stuntman; he’s a stunt-god.
It’s too bad, really. The money spent on this dog could have gone into a documentary on the Kenievel and the daredevil stunt world. I’d have been interested to see how these stunt shows were conceived, planned, and executed, and to learn what Kenievel thought about performing for an audience of people who’d have been as happy to see him crash as to see him land safely. Okay, maybe it wouldn’t be The Thin Blue Line or 49 Up, but at least in a documentary we’d have seen Kenievel jump. In Viva Kenievel! all the jumps are performed by a stunt double.
P.S. A film of such campy self-importance needs the gang from Rifftrax to puncture it, and at last it has come to pass. A sample: