"Bobby Jones, Stroke of Genius" doesn't gallop like last year's "Seabiscuit," although both films glorify athletes who inspired a nation around the same depressed times. It's just the nature of contrast between horse racing and golf, one as breakneck as the other is leisurely. "Seabiscuit" had everything necessary to mythologize a hero. The Jones movie simply has a hero.
The story of Robert Tyre Jones Jr. doesn't have much drama to be embellished. Jones was the master of golf before he created the Masters tournament, too hotheaded for his own good at times, drinking a bit too much and enduring a hard-to-pinpoint neurological ailment. That internalized conflict is something director and co-writer Rowdy Herrington can't quite convey.
The film becomes a series of episodes that define Jones' public personality but not his pull on the public. While "Seabiscuit" turned American history into a compelling back story, Herrington's movie doesn't. After a while, we've seen so many great shots re-enacted, so many long putts curling into the cup, that they all run together.
Jim Caviezel takes over the role as Jones reaches adulthood, getting few chances from the screenplay to express anything besides an inconsistent string of behaviors. Bobby is on or off his game depending only on when Herrington wants to pull some heartstrings. Caviezel is too sedate in tense scenes and even less credible when he blows his stack. But he does mimic Jones' classic swing well.
Herrington also stages scenes at St. Andrews in Scotland, where Jones' best highs and worst lows took place, and briefly at the Augusta National course he designed. Those sights and some interesting camera moves to track the ball in play will thrill avid golfers.
Obstacles are raised — a nasty case of varicose veins, a ban from playing until he controls his anger, a neglected wife (Claire Forlani) — then quickly dispatched. One scene involving a rival, Walter Hagen (Jeremy Northam), rallying other golfers against Jones seems out of position considering how that relationship develops. Finally, there's nothing left to explain except the obvious, that Jones won the Grand Slam of his day — the U.S. and British Amateurs and the U.S. and British Opens — then retired at age 28.
The real Bobby Jones deserves a rousing cheer; the movie of his career gets a polite golf clap.
"Bobby Jones, Stroke of Genius" is rated PG for scattered use of profanity. Running time: 128 min.