Presented by the Bobby Jones Film Company and approved by his heirs, so you know it's brutally honest, Stroke of Genius details the first half of Jones's life, which is presented with as much narrative élan as a fifth grader's book report. A sickly boy, Bobby watches with rapt attention the matches on the golf course near his house. He spends hours practicing in the vast Georgia countryside, and as a teenager becomes a star amateur. Later, after years of struggling, he becomes the best golfer in the world.
Director Rowdy Herrington (Striking Distance) bombards you with highlights, completely overlooking the shades of gray that make athletes such compelling subjects. The movie makes it clear that Jones battled personal demons, as well as crippling physical ailments, but Caviezel isn't given the chance to tap into those. Herrington only offers us scenes when Caviezel looks frazzled or in pain. There is so much dramatic potential wasted. Jones tried to please everyone, one character points out. He became a lawyer for his grandfather, a golfer for his father, attended two colleges for his mother. Wouldn't you love to know what motivates someone to do that? Instead, Herrington opts for endless golf anecdotes, clichéd speeches, and God knows how many award presentations.
Herrington, who also co-wrote the script, never bothers to dig beneath the glossy, inspirational surface, so we never care about Jones and his amazing accomplishments (he was the last golfer to win the coveted Grand Slam). There are countless golf scenes in Stroke of Genius, and none are compelling. Herrington and his public relations minions are so preoccupied with celebrating Jones' accomplishments that they complete overlook the actual importance of anything he did on the links. Athletic scenes in movies matter when we know something is on the line. Stroke of Genius disregards this rule and the result is tragic, as it's hard for most people to get excited about golf to begin with especially when the golfer was relevant during the Depression, and was not exactly Babe Ruth in the charisma department.
If an objective third-party was involved, the movie could have been riveting. Contrary to what was described above, Bobby Jones is a fascinating subject; just check out his ESPN "50 Greatest Athletes" profile. It is full of dramatic highs and lows, and later in life, some pretty serious racism charges. Stroke of Genius features a cast that can tackle tougher material -- Caviezel, Claire Forlani (almost unrecognizable as Jones's wife), Aidan Quinn, and Jeremy Northam, who as Walter Hagen (Jones's raconteur rival and sometimes ally) is as welcome as a cold beer on a hot day.
Except for Northam, everyone acts as if they're not in a movie, but in an infomercial that can't end soon enough.
Extensive DVD extras include bloopers, deleted scenes, a commentary from NYU film professor Richard Brown, and a handful of making-of shorts and historical featurettes about Jones.
Aka Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius.
"Just call me Mr. Genius."
Run time: 120 mins
In Theaters: Friday 30th April 2004
Box Office USA: $2.5M
Distributed by: Film Foundry Releasing
Production compaines: Bobby Jones Films LLC, Dean River Productions, LIFE(n), McDongall Films
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 26%
Fresh: 20 Rotten: 56
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: Rowdy Herrington
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