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Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius

  Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius
Just be the ball, be the ball, be the ball...

© 2004, Bobby Jones Films
All Rights Reserved

"Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius" (IMDb listing) is a bio-pic of the legendary, early 1920s golfer (played by Jim Caviezel, "The Passion of the Christ"), who, at the age of 28, retired as an amateur, yet held golf's most valuable realization of victory: the grand slam. "Stroke of Genius" attempts to move beyond the fairway and detail the hardships of Jones' life, including his struggles with tremendous fame, medical ailments that broke his spirit, and his refusal to turn pro, which shocked the sport at the time.

Set against the backdrop of World War I, prohibition, and the birth of the 1930s, "Stroke" is a handsomely detailed period film that has arrived from very modest circumstances. Rushed to release to capitalize on Caviezel's golden name after his stirring work as Jesus in Mel Gibson's "Passion," "Stroke" might be worlds apart in setting and goals from the crucifixion saga, but the two films share a similar saintly attitude that brings both pictures crashing back down to earth.

Bobby Jones was a master of the links. He was a man who amassed victories left and right with the efficiency of Tiger Woods, but he also carried a temper that left his sportsmanship looking a bit like Happy Gilmore at times. "Stroke" is an affectionate tribute to the golfer all the way, but I enjoyed more how director Rowdy Herrington (who needs only one credit to his name: 1989's "Road House") didn't shy from presenting Jones' infantile behavior on the greens in the early moments of the picture. "Stroke" eventually (and shamelessly) works its way into treating Jones like a saint, but those early moments promise a vibrant film that will be honest in portraying Jones as a man of the sport, not a miracle worker.

That promise isn't kept for long, for when Caviezel takes over the role as Jones comes of age, the character begins to blur any lines of personality. Caviezel is a good actor, but he doesn't dig in deep enough to play Jones, relying on poignant stares and a lazy southern drawl to get by. Herrington doesn't do any favors for Caviezel by mounting ridiculously shlockly soap opera-type drama whenever the action is off the greens, which always, and I mean always, manages to stop the picture dead. In fact, the only actor to overcome the often resoundingly terrible dialog is Jeremy Northam, who captures an odd Bob Hope spirit in his portrayal of pro golfing legend, Walter Hagen.

Herrington takes great satisfaction in capturing the dewy morning of a perfect golf day, or the frustration of landing in a sand trap, feeling the weight of the odds against the golfer. "Bobby Jones" is a far better exploration of the challenges the legend faced on the courses of the world, than an investigation of the man he might have been to those who loved him.

Filmfodder Grade: C

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