There are few movies which feature significant cross-country ski scenes, let alone an entire feature film that has cross-country skiing as its theme. But when such a movie does arrive, you can count on FasterSkier to put on our critic’s hat and give it a review.
Off Track won’t make you forget Citizen Kane, but it’s a fun 95 minutes for ski enthusiast. For non-skiers, don’t put in the effort. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The movie that caught our attention is Off Track. Currently on Netflix, Off Track (Ur Spar is the original Swedish title) is a Netflix production focusing on the intersecting lives of people training for the Vasaloppet.
Filmed on location in Dalarna and Stockholm, Sweden, Off Track tries hard: at the end of the day, the film provides enough satisfying content of Vasa scenes, training action, and other ski related activities to make it an enjoyable 95-minute romp for the ski enthusiast. For the non-ski fan, this movie could prove to be way off track.
Anyone who has done much racing will know and understand all the characters in this film. There’s the obsessive-compulsive age grouper who focuses way too much on skiing and not enough on family. Then there’s the older skier determined to keep their consecutive years of participation streak alive when they probably shouldn’t. There’s also the total novice, in way over their head. Also making an appearance is the hot professional skier who will do anything to win. Apart from the characters specific to the racing scene, there’s the protagonist who is an alcohol-drenched divorced mother whose life is a mess.
Off Track tries to be a contemporary Rocky on skis: it may fall well short of that mark. The plot line is thin, with the depth of a very finely applied layer of klister and many of the same attributes: kind of messy and not enough kick. The ski-related scenes are forced to carry the entire production, and the movie has a naiveté that undercuts its better moments.
The ski scenes are the most—and truly, only—satisfying parts of the movie. How often do we see a film that shows people training on a Skierg, roller-skiing, and hill bounding, all in the same sequence? I think never! The ski scenes are of variable quality with good, re-enacted race sequences, and lots of fun pre- and post-race pieces. There is also some footage of racers showing technique that would clearly never propel someone 90-kilometers. It will also turn you off from blueberry soup forever.
The biggest fault with Off Track is that the message boils down to “all things can be solved by training for and skiing the Vasaloppet.” Drink too much, and have parenting issues? The Vasa will fix that. Overtraining and losing track of the important things in life? Well, the Vasa has a cure for that too. In a bit of a spoiler, it can even fix infertility. It does have some redeeming non-ski scenes, like spending the night before the race on the gymnasium floor. But none of the pure non-ski scenes can stand on their own and overcome a very weak screenplay. It also has some very quirky Swedish scenes at which North American audiences may look askance.
The acting is okay, somewhere between a made-for-TV movie and a Hollywood “B” movie. I strongly recommend watching with subtitles instead of the English dubbing which is hopelessly distracting.
If your cinematic movie memory of cross-country ski scenes includes the biathlon chase sequence from the most regrettable James Bond film, For Your Eyes Only, then Off Track will turn out to be a couple of notches of improvement.
The credits are worth watching. You’ll see attributions for stunt roller-skiers—something you’ll probably never see again. The product placement is actually enjoyable with Madshus, Fisher, Swix, and Craft all making appearances.
Off Track won’t make anyone’s top 100 films of all-time list. But, for people who take the time to read race results on FasterSkier, it will probably prove an enjoyable way to spend an evening. Watch it with the right attitude, with a few ski buddies, and you’ll have a few good laughs, some groans, and generally be entertained. It might even get you motivated enough to train for the Vasaloppet and get your life in order. For non-skiers it will disappoint.
For FasterSkier readers I give it three out of five tubes of klister.
For non-skiers one tube.