Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius has been Troyed and Shreked out of first-run theaters. (It opened on more than 1,300 screens; now its down to less than 50.) This might be a good time to scope out the problem with golf cinema ' and quit worrying about it.
The Jones picture got panned within the golf press for being tinny, lacking depth, and essentially falling way short of the bar set by Citizen Kane and the rest of the American Film Institutes 100 Best list. Golf World couldnt find anything good to say about it, which seemed strange in light of the fact that sister magazine Golf Digest threw a big pre-premiere party for the film in Augusta during Masters week. Golfweeks smug reviewer complained about the films depiction of Jones, specifically the casting of anyone who isnt a Jones clone (as if there is such a thing). The writer moaned like a self-appointed Jones protector, implying that Jones had been wounded by some gross misrepresentation.
Thats the danger with a figure like Jones, or Babe Ruth, the only man who could have kept Jones from being the most prominent athlete of the 1920s (and who was played, in a truly bad picture, by John Goodman). So many people in golf feel as if they own Jones and his legend. So we hold books or movies about him to a nearly impossible standard. And while its true that the recent Jones movie wasnt masterpiece quality, it wasnt half as bad as its detractors made out.
No golf movie is. Tin Cup, a light entertainment, made for a Friday-night rental with pizza delivery, never pretended to encourage mantel-space rearrangement to accommodate Academy Awards for its cast or crew. Follow The Sun, the Glenn Ford melodrama of Ben Hogans life released in 1951, was in the same vein. Ditto Caddyshack (1988), Dead Solid Perfect (1988), Happy Gilmore (1996), The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), Pat and Mike (1952) and Golfballs! (1999).
And thats not entirely a bad thing. With occasional exceptions that amount to truly compelling movies, Hollywood is in the least-common-denominator business. Thats because least common denominator often equals greatest common numerator: Big dollars, production budget recouped in the first weekend, profit, hot tubs, new ranches in Montana, another Lexus, the twelfth Rolex. Why else would Mike Myers as a monster with an inexplicable Scotch burr battle for No. 1 with Brad Pitt, who obviously cant act his way out of a suit of armor?
Niche moviemaking, the kind that spawned the Jones movie, is more a product of passion than profit motive. It necessarily appeals to a narrow audience. If nothing else, it draws history out of the realm of the minds eye. Golfers who want to look at a richly imagined past, to adorn with flesh, blood and emotion a man who played the game and died before they were born, will enjoy Stroke of Genius. Golfers who want to fantasize what it would be like for a sun-baked range pro to climb an improbable ladder to U.S. Open glory will like Tin Cup. But dont look for blockbusters on this shelf at Blockbuster.
The other good thing about it: When Hollywood gets around to The Tiger Woods Story (never doubt it), perhaps it wont feel so compelled to have a team of blockbuster-savvy writers punch up the story with a bunch of stuff that never happened.
After all, when your subject matter is too good for the lowest common denominator, you deserve better.
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