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Film / Viva Knievel!

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And his last, too.

"Yeah... hard to believe Evel Knievel was a mega-giant superstar, but in defense of the seventies, you have to remember that most people were coked up and had at least one venereal disease."

Viva Knievel! is a 1977 action film starring Evel Knievel as a strangely dressed man who jumps his motorcycle over things.

As the greatest bike jumper in the world, Knievel is offered a huge sum to exhibit his skill in Mexico. But the engagement is actually a trap laid by a drug lord (Leslie Nielsen), who intends to kill Knievel as part of an elaborate scheme to smuggle cocaine into the United States. Along the way, Evel must recover from a traumatic crash, reunite an alcoholic mechanic (Gene Kelly) with his estranged son, and win the affection of a standoffish reporter (Lauren Hutton).

This film provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Will Atkins, formerly a champion motorcycle jumper, now Evel's mechanic.
  • Alternate DVD Commentary: In 2013, RiffTrax gave it the comic treatment.
  • And Starring: Marjoe Gortner gets the treatment in both the opening and end credits.
  • As Himself: Both Evel Knievel and Frank Gifford appear as fictionalized versions of themselves.
  • Batman Gambit: Millard knows that Evel will react magnanimously to Jesse's approach.
  • Beneath Suspicion: The operative logic in Millard's plan seems to be that a regular, ordinary coffin might be stopped and searched for drugs at the border, but not the coffin of the late Evel Knievel, the beloved and nationally mourned stunt cyclist, even if his body's being transported in a giant trailer; technically, Knievel would be Above Suspicion.
  • Borscht Belt: Ben, the corrupt promoter played by Red Buttons.
  • Chickification: Kate starts out as a sassy, outspoken professional, but by the end of the film she has degraded into a damsel in distress.
  • Coffin Contraband: Millard's plan is to kill Knievel in Mexico and smuggle cocaine in the van carrying Knievel's body back into the United States.
  • Cool Bike: Naturally, there are several in the film. A perfect duplicate of Evel's famed Stratocycle is even used as a bribe.note 
  • Complexity Addiction: The aforementioned plan, maybe one of the most ridiculous and overblown in movie history. Even though success will mean successfully transporting 3000 keys of coke (a $50 million score, according to Jesse), it doesn't begin to justify why Millard would go to such insane lengths, or pin his entire scheme on the precise and predictable death of a man who jumps over fire and lions for a living.
    1. He recruits Jesse, a drug-addicted younger cyclist who used to be Evel's touring partner but drifted away to pursue his solo career, to ingratiate himself back into the inner circle.
    2. Jesse spikes Will's booze to knock him out so he can take photos of the interior of Evel's bike trailer — all to ensure the total accuracy of the perfect duplicate with hollow walls that Millard's building, at a personal cost of 3,000,000 dollars (in 1977 money, no less). Their hookup in Mexico even asks later why they couldn't just use Knievel's real trailer instead, but Millard dismissively replies that it can't be done.
    3. Millard, who already has a reputation as a top-notch sports promoter, writes out another half million's worth of post-dated checks for Evel to perform stunts in Mexico, hoping the money up front will entice him after a series of bad experiences with his current promoter Ben. Having given his word to do two more jumps, Evel refuses, and only seems to have a change of heart after a near-fatal accident, with no mention of Ben from then on.note 
    4. Knowing Will is on to them, they drug him and abandon him in a psych ward (at a hospital run by English-speaking Americans who accept only American patients, despite being in Mexico), which would mean giving the corrupt administrator a bribe or cut of the action.
    5. Millard has a rigged duplicate of Evel's jumping cycle built, complete with a remote-control mechanism that bursts the front tire after launch, to ensure he'll either veer off course or die on impact.
    6. he gives a replica Stratocycle (mentioned as being worth 20 bikes) to Jesse as a bribe, for no clear reason other than to further entice him into going along with the scheme.
    7. They'll dispose of Jesse as a loose end, which they unwisely and loudly discuss in their private box as Jesse wanders in.note 
    8. With Evel either killed or critically injured, Barton will pose as one of the EMTs, load him into the ambulance, and drive off, presumably just to make sure he dies.
    9. Evel's body finally gets shipped back to the States, for some reason inside the duplicate tour trailer lined with cocaine, which will be stripped on its arrival in an undisclosed fashion.
  • The Corruptible: Jesse (played by Marjoe Gortner).
  • Death by Childbirth: The fate of Will's wife, and the apparent cause of his alcoholism and antipathy towards his son.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Evel is vocally opposed to drug use, even preceding his bike jump with an anti-drug homily. Later he angrily refuses to believe that his alcoholic friend might be on "dope". (However, he seems content to live and let live with Will being an alcoholic in the first place, as long as he maintains well enough to do his job.) invoked
  • Easily Forgiven: Apparently, Evel doesn't hold grudges - it's even a plot point. Tell that to the biographer Evel attacked with an aluminum baseball bat.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: The end of the final chase.
    Kevin: (guffawing) And of course, since every car in The '70s were made of pure nitroglycerin!
  • Exact Eavesdropping: Jesse just happened to be listening at the door when the bad guys announced their intention to eliminate him.
  • Friend to All Children: In the first scene, Evel is delivering toys to orphans. However, he also slaps them awake, and scolds them harshly for hugging them too hard.
  • Functional Addict: Will Atkins, who manages to fix Evel's motorcycle and also get blackout drunk.
  • Good Flaws, Bad Flaws
    Evel: If he's been drinking, all right. But dope? No way!
  • Hollywood Atlas
    Kate: I'm flying out to cover that new revolution in South America.
    Evel: Big deal. There's always a revolution in South America.
    • Evel's hometown is Montana, the entire state.note 
  • How the Mighty Have Fallen: Will views himself as this, having formerly been "the #1 jumper in Texas" to just a mechanic. His son still idolizes him, though.
  • Idiot Ball: Granted, Millard had no idea Jesse was eavesdropping, but there was no reason at all for Millard to decide Jesse was a loose end to be killed. In fact, Jesse was an addict getting free drugs from Millard to be his puppet.
  • Ironic Nickname: Evel's explanation for his sobriquet. "I was such a good little boy, they nicknamed me Evil."note 
  • Magnificent Moustaches of Mexico: Sported by many of the Mexican characters.
  • Mistaken for Junkie: Will Atkins is falsely imprisoned in a sanatarium, supposedly because of a drug overdose, but in reality to keep him from revealing Mallard's scheme to Knievel.
  • Overly Narrow Superlative: Evel is the #1 ranked jumper. Will was the #1 jumper at one point in Texas. Who knew there was a daredevil jumping league?
  • Parental Abandonment: Will blames his son for his wife's death in childbirth, and treats him accordingly.
  • Percussive Prevention: Jessie knocking Evel out to keep him from attempting a sabotaged stunt.
  • Product Placement: Those Evel Knievel dolls and toy Stratocasters? Every boy in The '70s had one.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Evel, of course.
  • Ransacked Room: Evel takes a break from chasing the villain and drives his motorcycle through a Mexican saloon, leaving the place a shambles.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Kate delivers one to Evel and Will.
  • The '70s: Feathered hair, cocaine, and Marjoe Gortner! This is the only decade in which the star of Singin' in the Rain would co-star with a stuntman and be billed under him.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Jesse drugs Will's booze in order to gain access to Evel's van.
  • Stay in the Kitchen
    Evel: Are you a woman... or a "mizz"?
    Kate: Chances are you'll never know.
  • Stern Nun: Sister Charity. She melts when given chocolate because she's also a Sweet Tooth.
  • Stock Footage: A gruesome example — the grainy footage of Jesse crashing while wearing Evel's uniform, with his body realistically contorting and jerking around, was taken from Knievel's own near-fatal crash at Wembley Stadium on May 26, 1975.note 
  • Straw Feminist: Kate is supposed to be one, thanks to Evel's Protagonist-Centered Morality, but she comes off as well-rounded and intelligent. Then she spends too much time with Evel - see Chickification above.
  • The Stoner: Jesse, who's hooked on Millard's coke.
  • Stunt Double: In-universe, Jesse serves as Evel's stunt double during the fateful jump.
  • Tap on the Head: For a stunt biker, Evel is pretty easy to knock unconscious.
  • 10-Minute Retirement: After his gruesome crash, Even declares he'll never jump again. He's still in the hospital when he decides he's going to jump again. Evel explains he always says he's retiring after a bad crash, but gets over it afterward. This is basically Truth in Television for Evel, who during his career had broken almost every single bone in his body at one point or another, declared he was done, then continued anyway.
  • Title Drop: Clumsily.
    Evel: Viva tequila!
    Will: Viva... Knievel!
  • Too Dumb to Live: Even after learning of Mallard's scheme, Evel takes no action to prevent or expose it. He continues to play into the drug lord's hands, and only escapes death when Jesse happens to knock him out and take his place before the rigged jump. Then Jessie runs with the trope by going through with the jump, rather than alert the authorities. (Of course, Jesse is high on cocaine at the time, so he wasn't thinking clearly.)
  • Villain Ball: Millard decides he wants Jesse, a loyal minion who is hooked and completely dependent on Millard for drugs and financial support, dead, for no clear reason. This comes after numerous scenes of Millard gloating he has Jesse wrapped around his finger.
  • Wearing a Flag on Your Head: Evel's wardrobe and accoutrements are all decorated in an American flag motif.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Evel's crooked promoter Ben (Red Buttons) disappears without explanation after the first act, and his subplot is never resolved. It is mentioned Knievel never breaks a promise, and the promoter has been signed to two more jumps - but Knievel only performs one stunt under Ben's contract before doing a jump with Millard has his promoter. If Knievel is a man of his word like everyone claims, it's doubly odd Ben would vanish. (In a Deleted Scene, Ben was revealed to be responsible for Evel's crash, which is why he's not at the hospital or trip to Mexico. His carelessness was Foreshadowed in the first scene.) invoked
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Kate lays into Evel and Will over their treatment of Tommy. It's last time she shows any backbone, and the only time Evel gets criticized.
  • When You Coming Home, Dad?: And despite Will treating Tommy like absolute shit after more-or-less abandoning him, Tommy still idolizes him.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: After Evel is killed, Jesse is next - too bad Jesse overhears the betrayal.