Roger Ebert's greatest film takedown was a golf movie
Anyone who loves movies knows we lost one of our own with the death of Roger Ebert on Thursday. Tributes to Ebert have poured in from around the world, but his most lasting legacy will be his reviews, which will be read as long as people still watch films.
Unlike some reviewers, you never had to wonder if Ebert actually liked a movie after you read his review. One he didn't like was the 2011 religious golf movie "Seven Days in Utopia." Ebert's one-star review: "I would rather eat a golf ball than see this movie again."
Here are Ebert's reviews on the most popular golf movies of the last 30 years:
Caddyshack never finds a consistent comic note of its own, but it plays host to all sorts of approaches from its stars, who sometimes hardly seem to be occupying the same movie.
There's Bill Murray's self-absorbed craziness, Chevy Chase's laid-back bemusement, and Ted Knight's apoplectic overplaying. And then there is Rodney Dangerfield, who wades into the movie and cleans up. To the degree that this is anybody's movie, it's Dangerfield's and he mostly seems to be using his own material.
Robert Redford's "The Legend of Bagger Vance" could be a movie about prayer, music or mathematics because it is really about finding yourself at peace with the thing you do best. Most of the movie is about an epic golf tournament, but it is not a sports movie in any conventional sense. It is the first zen movie about golf.
I watched it aware of what a delicate touch Redford brings to the material. It could have been punched up into cliches and easy thrills, but no: It handles a sports movie the way Billie Holiday handled a trashy song, by finding the love and pain beneath the story.
The Happy Gilmore character is strange. I guess we are supposed to like him. He loves his old Grandma, and wins the heart of a pretty public relations lady (Julie Bowen) who tries to teach him to control his temper. Yet, as played by [Adam] Sandler, he doesn't have a pleasing personality: He seems angry even when he's not supposed to be, and his habit of pounding everyone he dislikes is tiring in a PG-13 movie. At one point, he even knocks the bottom off a beer bottle and goes for Shooter.
It was a Heineken's beer, I think. The label was a little torn. Maybe nobody paid for product placement. "Happy Gilmore" is filled with so many plugs it looks like a product placement sampler in search of a movie. I probably missed a few, but I counted Diet Pepsi, Pepsi, Pepsi Max, Subway sandwich shops, Budweiser (in bottles, cans, and Bud-dispensing helmets), Michelob, Visa cards, Bell Atlantic, AT&T, Sizzler, Wilson, Golf Digest, the ESPN sports network, and Top-Flite golf balls.
"Tin Cup'' is well written. The dialogue is smart and fresh, and when Tin Cup and Molly are talking to each other they savor the joy of language. The movie is strong in supporting characters. Don Johnson finds the right blend for the villain: He's likable, tanned and ingratiating when it suits him, and a jerk the rest of the time. Cheech Marin is crucial in a couple of sequences in which he is the caddie and knows Tin Cup is calling for the wrong club. And an actress named Linda Hart has some nice moments as the local stripper who is the landlady of the driving range. [Director Ron] Shelton's gift is to take the main lines of the story, which are fairly routine, and add side stories that make the movie worth seeing.
Jones was not only an amateur, but an amateur who had to earn a living, so that he couldn't play golf every day and mostly played only in championship-level tournaments. This makes him sound like a man who played simply for love of the game, but "Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius" shows us a man who seems driven to play, a man obsessed; there seems less joy than compulsion in his career, and the movie contrasts him with the era's top professional, Walter Hagen (Jeremy Northam), who seems to enjoy himself a lot more.
In 1913, a working-class American amateur named Francis Ouimet defeated the great British player Harry Vardon to win the U.S. Open. Here is a movie that tells that story and exactly that story, devoting a considerable amount of its running time to the final rounds and playing like one a superb sports telecast. Because some of the opening scenes seem borrowed from other underdog movies, I was surprised to realize, toward the end, how gripping the movie had become.