Dir: Robert Redford. US. 2000. 119 mins.
Prod cos: Allied Filmmakers, Wildwood Enterprises. US dist: DreamWorks SKG. Int'l dist: 20th Century Fox. Prods: Robert Redford, Jake Eberts, Michael Nazik. Exec prod: Karen Tenkhoff. Scr: Jeremy Leven, from the novel Gates Of Fire by Steven Pressfield. DoP: Michael Ballhaus. Prod des: Stuart Craig. Ed: Hank Corwin. Mus: Rachel Portman. Main cast: Will Smith, Matt Damon, Charlize Theron, Jack Lemmon, Bruce McGill, Joel Gretsch.
Robert Redford has always enjoyed semi-spiritual tales of sporting Americana - witness his own The Horse Whisperer or The Natural in which he played the golden-haired baseball hero for director Barry Levinson - but his new film The Legend Of Bagger Vance, in which a game of golf acts as a metaphor for life, takes the genre to an almost laughable level of corniness. Audiences domestically and internationally will find this syrupy hokum hard to stomach despite a stellar cast led by a sandy-haired Matt Damon, playing the part Redford himself would have played thirty years ago. The sheer level of star magnitude in front of and behind the camera should generate initial interest but it will fade fast in the holiday scrum for screen space.
Damon plays a Georgian golf champion engaged to the beautiful heiress Theron who goes to fight in the trenches during World War I and fails to return at the end of the war. When he finally does come back in the 1930s, he descends into a life of drinking and gambling.
But when Theron launches a golfing championship to save her father's resort from bankruptcy, Damon is persuaded to return to the game to represent Georgia in a three-player match against two national champions. Struggling to regain his form, Damon is joined by a mysterious black caddie Bagger Vance (Smith) who helps him with his swing and on his road to healing the scars of the war.
Smith - whose character is named after the Hindu word for God - is ineffectual as the unlikely angel, although both Damon and Charlize Theron give spirited performances in the romantic leads. It remains a mystery how Redford, the champion of edgy independent filmmakers for the last decade, can himself create such unexciting multiplex fodder.