The Legend Of Bagger Vance (2000)
Main cast: Will Smith (Bagger Vance), Matt Damon (Rannulph Junuh), Charlize Theron (Adele Invergordon), J Michael Moncrief (Hardy Greaves), Bruce McGill (Walter Hagen), and Joel Gretsch (Bobby Jones)
Director: Robert Redford

It is very easy to dismiss Robert Redford's latest 3 hour opus offering, The Legend Of Bagger Vance, as a golfer's wet dream. Based on Steven Pressfield's novel of the same name, TLOBV is devastatingly gorgeous to the eyes and easy on the senses. It is also the screen equivalent of a Chicken Soup book, and I, who is looking for entertainment, is quite taken aback when I am given a motivation seminar of a movie instead.

The story revolves around once-supergolfer-now-drunk bum (the World War 1, you see) named Junuh who is forced to reexamine his priorities and confront his demons when his hometown of Savannah count on him to play against golf pros Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen in a match organized by his estranged wife Adele. No fear - into the scene comes guardian angel/mystic guru/whatever Bagger Vance who coaches Junuh back to golf pro-ship. Telling the story is young Hardy Greaves, who idolizes Junuh.

Of course Junuh will triumph. Of course Bagger will sprout a lot of mumbo jumbos about connecting with Mother Nature to get the perfect swing. And yeah, Junuh gets the gal in the end. No surprises here. But what could have been a derivative movie is elevated by superb performances by Theron, Damon, Smith, McGill and Gretsch. Particularly superb is Theron's portrayal as Adele, a Southern belle with pure steel in her personality. Adele's slow, seductive dance around a befuddled Junuh is delightful to watch and follow, and coming close is the nudge-wink-didya-get-that homoerotic bonding between Junuh and Jones. And Smith, ah, he turns what could have been a condenscending Black guru role (he can swing better than Junuh, but he will teach Junuh to get his swing back for $5.00 - hey, it's the Great Depression era) into a smile-inducing role. Charming man, that Will Smith.

But the Child Actor Syndrome strikes again. Every time Moncrief stares blankly at the camera (unblinkingly), mouthing his lines like a midget ET trying to speak English through a broken universal translator, I cringe. And the awful thing is, this boy who just can't act gets a lot of screen time. At his moments (when he cries, declares that Junuh can do it, etc), my fingers itch to encircle that boy's neck and just choke and choke. It's cruel, I know, but some kids are irritating, and the way this boy speaks and cries - all with that blank-faced zombified look at the camera - push all my wrong buttons.

Only those well-versed with environmental conservation would appreciate the bloody and not-too-funny irony of golf courses as a place to reconnect oneself with Mother Nature. But most people, I suspect, will scream in terror when the movie pans into its final scene to reveal that... heaven is a giant golf course.

Rating: 72

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