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Dreamworks Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox
Official Site

Director: Robert Redford

Producers: Robert Redford, Michael Nozik, Jake Eberts

Written by: Jeremy Leven, based on the novel by Steven Pressfield

Cast: Will Smith, Matt Damon, Charlize Theron, J. Michael Moncrief, Bruce McGill, Joel Gretsch, Lane Smith, Harve Presnell, Jack Lemmon

Rating: **.5 out of 5

Bagger Vance (Smith) is the mysterious caddy who appears in the nick of time to help former golf great Rannulph Junuh (Damon) recall himself to life and rediscover "his swing." Junuh was Savannah's hometown hero as the youngest golf champion ever, but lost himself when he went off in 1917, to fight in the Great War. Returning to Savannah at the height of the Great Depression, he encounters his former sweetheart, Adele Invergordon (Theron), who's promoting an exhibition match between the reigning golfers of the day in order to save her dead father's golf course/resort from being sold on the courthouse steps.

Robert Redford returns to the same bottle he pulled lightning from for A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT, with another story of men engaging in graceful, physical endeavors as a metaphor for how to live. This tale, however, is a mere slip of a thing compared to RIVER. So why compare the two? Because Redford obviously did as he directed this.

Rachel Portman's lush score swells as the camera repeatedly focuses on strong hands gripping golf clubs and swinging, much like the many scenes of fly-fishing in RIVER. And once again, we watch a Robert Redford stand-in. For this is also, to a degree, a picture about beautiful young men, by the man who was America's most beautiful young man back in the day. Damon's hair has been dyed for this role, and we're treated to lots of shots of the sun glinting off his red-gold head and his flushed, sunburned cheekbones. Why gosh, he kind of resembles Redford, just as Brad Pitt did in RIVER. Fancy that, y'all.

This appears to be a fable, so although it's set during a time when Southern trees often bore a strange fruit, race issues are non-existent. Little white boys call black men "sir." That's how non-existent race issues are.

Through highs and lows, Vance gets Junuh on his feet again. Sometimes Vance's New Agey admonitions call to mind nothing so much as Obi-Wan Kenobi, as he exhorts Junuh to feel the shots. Other times he lets his charge learn by offering him just so much support … then stepping away. Smith does a creditable job of getting Junuh to use the Force, but this role is just all wrong for him. For one thing, he's too modern. Smith doesn't work well in other periods. But more fundamentally, Smith's biggest assets are his charm, not used here as well as it could be, and his turned-up-to-11 sex appeal, neutered by the time and place in which this story is set. What. A. Crime.

Other annoyances: The actors' on-again, off-again Southern accents (only Smith managed to hold on to his accent throughout the picture); the 127-minute length of the movie, clearly unnecessary; the fact that some knowledge of golf is necessary (I have none. Nada. Zip. I didn't get many of the action jokes.); and the ubiquitous Charlize Theron.

Fun stuff to know: Bruce McGill, who plays golfer Walter Hagen, also played D-Day in ANIMAL HOUSE. Jack Lemmon, who opens the film and does voice-over, is a real-life golf fanatic who plays in Pro-Am tournaments.

THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE could be more interesting to those who enjoy the sport of golf. I thought it was like watching grass grow.

—Roxanne Bogucka

HYBRID Ratings Guide:

***** Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

**** It’s worth a full-price ticket.

*** It’s worth a matinee ticket.

** Wait for video rental.

* Check out the video from the library, if you must.

0 While I would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

Mike Doughty

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