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"The Legend of Bagger Vance"

Directed by Robert Redford.
Written by Jeremy Leven.  Based on the novel by Steven Pressfield. 
Starring Will Smith, Matt Damon and Charlize Theron.
Release Year:  2000 
Review Date:  10/31/00 


Once again, Tricia "I'm Hot, But Not Bothered" Ocampo scored some free movie passes, so Tricia and a small horde of other friends of ours met over at Pentagon City Theaters to check out a sneak preview of the new Will Smith / Matt Damon golf flick "The Legend of Bagger Vance," which opens nationwide on Friday.  In attendance were Carrie "No Vick=No Rings" Booker, Brian "UNC Ain't S***" Edmonds, and my work friends Heather "Ann Taylor" James and Christine "Down, Set, Hut" Kerner.  The people that I went with range from hot to funny to interesting to insightful.  Unfortunately, the movie is none of those things.

Here is my thing:  I, like millions of other Americans in the last three years, have gotten caught up in the golfing frenzy that is the Tiger Woods phenomenon.  I now can be tricked into watching a golf match every so often on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon if nothing else is on, in the hopes that I can watch the great Tiger win another $5 million at the ripe old age of 25.  Bastard.  Anyway, even when Tiger is in the hunt for a major championship, I still have to admit one thing to myself:

Golf is b...o...r...i...n...g.

So, imagine the idea of spending one hour of this two-hour snorefest watching players think on the golf course about how the wind might affect their shot, or what club to use with 175 yards to the flag, or which angle they should attack the hole from.  Just IMAGINE!  If you are thinking the same thing that I am--"Justin, that sounds a lot like Chinese water torture"--then you should probably just skip this movie altogether.

The plot is simple, really:  a world-class Savannah, Georgia golfer named Junnuh (Matt Damon) wins tournaments left and right in the 1910s, and then gets drafted into WWI.  He comes back a war hero with a sketchy past after 10 long years, and since he hasn't played golf in a good decade, he is more suited to card playing and hard drinking than picking up where his links career was interrupted.  It doesn't make things easier that his love interest before the war (Charlize Theron) is still living in Savannah and was still lovin' Junnuh when he left, while he was gone, and when he returns.  She wants some answers as to why he never tried to contact her while he was fighting in the war.  Women--the nerve!  Around this time, it is 1930, and the Great Depression hits Savannah hard.  The local government finds a way to have a three-man golf tournament at the newest prestige golf course in Savannah to raise money for the course--owned by the Theron character's family--and get the locals excited again during this period of great suffering.  American golfing legends Bobby Jones and Frank Hagan are enlisted to play, and to fill out the threesome, the government asks local hero Junnuh to come out of his retirement and compete for the then-whopping $10,000 grand prize.

Enter sensei-like caddie Bagger Vance (Will Smith), who just shows up out of the blue one night and offers to help Junnuh find his swing and try to win the tournament.  The rest of the movie is then spent watching Damon figure it all out and try to win the cash through a set of four 18-hole rounds over two days.

It is too bad that director Robert Redford wastes all of this great acting talent in this film.  You literally do not get to know/understand Will Smith's Bagger at all.  Period!  He just shows up, starts spewing little catch phrases on how "The rhythm of the game is like the rhythm of life" and then walks off into the sunset.  Damon's character is really hard to get into, since he doesn't really treat anyone nicely during the movie yet we are rooting for him to win the tournament.  Strange...and, Theron is sadly wasted after a promising first 10 minutes that show us why she could be such a huge star if she just took the right parts.  She can clearly act and she is clearly hot...yet, when she falls into the sappy love interest mode that her character inevitably follows, she is just left to watch Damon swing the golf club and get applause for a great shot.

Of course, the actors are wasted because the script is so boring.  I must admit, there is one really great scene in this film where Bagger is telling Junnuh about "the field" and he makes Junnuh watch one of his rivals concentrate on making a great shot during the second round of the match.  It is sharp as we watch this rival set his mind on making a great golf shot, and Junnuh's intensity as he watches Bobby Jones take this shot is phenomenal.  But, this one scene is very isolated and, in comparison to the rest of the film, looks as if it was shot by another director.

Other problems abound:  the editor could have chopped 10 minutes out of this movie solely on cutting some of the golf scenes down to size; even when you watch golf on CBS, they don't make you watch every part of a golfer setting up his shots.  One of the cheesiest scenes of the year comes early on in the film when the Theron character suffers a death in the is so bad that I cannot do it justice by telling it to you through the review, you just have to see it when the movie debuts on HBO.  The movie features voice-over narration by an adult (Jack Lemmon) that followed Junnuh's every stroke as a child; I HATE narration during non-documentaries and Lemmon's narration added nothing to this film.  Oh, and did I mention that this is the most racism-free South in the history of the movies?  Blacks and whites get along in this film better than Spock and McCoy.  Not one racial slur, not one white character questions that Junnuh has a black caddie that seems smarter than everyone on the golf course, and blacks and whites hang out together in public!  This is the south of the 1930s?  But, to strongly contrast that potential stereotype, everyone in the movie speaks like stereotypical Southerners in movies; all of the characters in this movie say at least one variant of the following lines:

  • "Well, if I ain't ________ in a ______!!"

  • "Boy, I feel like a ___________ at a ___________!!"

  • "If you don't, I'll _________ you faster than you can say _________!!"

The production is too pretty and too occasionally witty to give this movie the bottom of the barrel rating, but Christine, Heather and Carrie all agreed that a step above that would be the perfect fit.  Only see this film if "Charlie's Angels" is sold out.  (Review of "Charlie's Angels" coming looks so bad!)

Rating:  Rental


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09