Friday, April 30, 2004

'Jones' isn't genius, but it's worth a shot

—Originally published 4.30.04

While filming "The Passion of the Christ," Jim Caviezel was accidentally whipped, suffered a separated shoulder and was struck by lightning.

No wonder he didn't feel like doing another movie right away.

But after reading about legendary golfer Bobby Jones, he decided it was time to come down from the cross and hit the links.

It was the right choice.

Caviezel's humble charm shines through in the title role of "Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius," a biopic of the only golfer to win all four major tournaments in the same year for a Grand Slam -- as an amateur, no less.

Although lacking in overall star power, "Bobby Jones" is reminiscent of last year's Oscar-nominated "Seabiscuit" in both subject matter and style. Like the famous Depression-era horse, Jones was a sickly youth who, growing up in the early 20th century, no one expected would be strong enough for any kind of athletic competition.

The film unfolds in essentially chronological order, starting with Jones as a boy who, too weak to play baseball, falls in love with golf and goes on to shock the world with his skill.

There is, of course, a lot of golf in this movie, and it's done convincingly. Before a screening earlier this month in Augusta, Caviezel (who played college basketball at Washington State) noted how much he hates sports movies where the actors' athletic flaws are painfully obvious. There is no such problem with Caviezel's performance.

But the gentleman's game almost takes a backseat to the real heart of the movie -- Jones himself. It's easy to portray a legend as the all-conquering, lovable, infallible hero (and usually the mark of a bad movie). However, director/writer Rowdy Herrington wisely does not shy away from Jones' hot temper and propensity to follow bad shots with strings of profanity. Herrington also gives glimpses into the legend's inner turmoil, namely a fear and downright panic of failure and disappointing others, or his use of alcohol to numb the pain of a brittle body suffering from syringomyelia, a spinal disorder.

"Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius" doesn't do anything new or revolutionary -- it probably won't make your jaw drop. But much like "Seabiscuit," "Jones" is a refreshingly solid film suited for families but lacking Hollywood's typical pandering to that demographic. The dialogue rings true for the most part, the characters are well-developed and the cast makes their roles come alive and transcend a typical sports flick (especially Claire Forlani as Jones' wife, Mary, and Jeremy Northam's turn as flamboyant professional player Walter Hagen).

Maybe it was the magic of watching this film only a few miles away from the course Bobby Jones built, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Grade: B+

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