Revisiting "A Gentleman's Game," the worst golf movie ever made
You're forgiven if you're not familiar with "A Gentleman's Game." It was a 2002 direct-to-video film, so you know it's of the utmost quality. A friend and I rented it in high school, and it's taken a decade of therapy to neutralize that traumatic day. While browsing YouTube working this week, the trailer came across my radar, releasing all the memories I worked so hard to suppress:
After my co-workers provided a victim's blanket and hot cocoa, I began stammering that "A Gentleman's Game" was, hands-down, the worst movie ever made. My boss thought I was exaggerating; no way it was THAT bad. He challenged me to revisit the film and keep a running diary of the experience. May the horrors I suffered serve as your entertainment.
0:00 -- The movie begins by panning over a golf course at night, with a boy making like Usain Bolt across the grounds. He's wearing a shirt, tie and dress pants, but that doesn't stop him from racing through creeks and tree branches. Something is clearly up as the scene fades to reveal the "Gentleman's Game" title card.
0:01 -- It's now daylight, and the same boy is striping it on a driving range. Give credit where credit's due: One of the reasons it's so hard to make a good golf film is finding actors with a decent swing (looking at you, Matt Damon). For all this film's flaws -- and as you'll soon see, it has many -- casting at least found a kid who looks like he can break 80.
Also on the range: Phillip Baker Hall! A.k.a. Lt. Bookman from "Seinfeld," a.k.a Floyd from "Boogie Nights," a.k.a. "That guy who looks like he hasn't slept in five years." Hall is sitting on a bench, watching the young kid fire away.
"Pure, Timmy. Absolutely freaking pure," Hall mutters. "That swing will take you to Augusta."
It's actually a touching moment, albeit one that's completely undone by Timmy's narration.
"When I was 13, people came to the range. But they had no intention of hitting. They only came...to watch."
0:03 -- We're now traveling back two years, for some reason, to young Timmy and his father working in the yard. Out of nowhere, the dad picks up a golf club and starts spitting off platitudes. "75 percent of the game is chipping and putting...you drive for show, and putt for dough...they don't ask how, they ask how many." Almost like the film editor was overwhelmed, couldn't choose which cliche to cut and said, "The hell with it, keep them all in."
Little Timmy says he wants to golf, and the dad (Dylan Baker) instructs him to take aim at the family's car, which sits 10 yards away. After whiffing twice, the dad smiles and sends him for lessons. Please, don't try this with the aspiring golfer in your life.
0:05 -- After one clinic, little Timmy is suddenly swinging like Louis Oosthuizen. His dad introduces Timmy to a 12-year-old caddie, Jaime, that doesn't have thumbs, which Timmy makes a point of. "He doesn't," his dad exclaims, "but he's the best caddie at the club." I had to pirate this movie because it wasn't available on Amazon, so the picture was a tad blurry. I say that because, from my viewpoint, the thumbless caddie clearly looks like he has thumbs.
0:09 -- Timmy is now working at the club as a caddie, which features the requisite "Poor, grizzled caddies giving the member's kid the cold shoulder" scene. One of the loopers is Bill Murray's brother, a.k.a the caddie master from "Caddyshack." He was available.
18:00 -- Timmy is playing with his father and, despite both swinging right-handed earlier in the film, they are now lefties. Wait, they're back to the right, with gloves on the proper hand. Little Timmy is apparently an ambidextrous virtuoso. Or the camera film got reversed in post-production and no one noticed.
21:00 -- Despite picking up the game 15 minutes ago, Timmy is now shooting in the 70s. The dad wants to enroll him in advanced lessons at the pro shop, but Carlie Logan (Phillip Baker Hall) says he needs to visit Foster Pearse, the former U.S. Amateur champ who once beat Lee Trevino in the '70s. Looks like we're falling into one of my favorite movie tropes: the guy who used to be "the best," only something terrible happened that forced him into solitude.
25:00 -- Little Timmy meets a girl working as the snack cart girl. Super awkward rapport between the two. Which, when you think about it, sums up adolescence.
25:30 -- We meet Foster, played by Academy Award nominee Gary Sinise. If you ever wondered how Sinise went from "Forrest Gump" and "Apollo 13" to crime detective shows your parents watch, this was the turning point.
Anyway, Sinise is living in a trailer by the ocean, so things are going well. Sinise rebuffs little Timmy, because it's a cinema bylaw that every misanthropic savant has to utter, "I gave up that **** long ago."
30:00 -- Timmy's mom falls asleep and almost burns the house down by leaving the oven on. If that seems like it came out of nowhere, join the club.
31:00 -- Little Timmy tries Foster again, this time winning his trust when revealing he's a caddie. The lesson begins by hitting balls from the beach into the water, an exercise I believe Hank Haney uses with his pupils.
44:00 -- "Something happened that afternoon," the narrator says as club members watch Timmy hit balls. "As the crowd looked up discovering Timmy Price, Timmy Price discovered himself." Sounds like something from Gary Player's memoir.
52:00 -- Update on Timmy's progress: after two lessons with Pearse, he posts consecutive 73s. At this pace, cat's going to win the Grand Slam before he hits puberty.
1:03 -- Drama in the Father-Son tournament, as Timmy calls a penalty against a prominent member, only for guy to flip his lid at Timmy while Timmy's dad gazes sheepishly forward. Where are your banalities about the game now, old man?
Better yet, as soon as they get in the car, the vapidity returns. "You can't win them all, we gave it a shot, all that matters is we tried." Timmy loses it by hitting a ball at the car and dropping to the grass in the pouring rain.
For couples on the fence about having kids, let this be a warning: children are psychopaths. By the way, buckle up, because this baby is about to go off the rails.
1:10 -- In a round with Logan, Timmy asks why Pearse quit golf. Apparently he tried to commit suicide on the way back from a Florida tournament, and never played again. OK then.
Confronted, Pearse said he cheated during the tournament, and was so angry with what he did, he didn't want to live any longer. He then tries to sermonize about "balance" in one's swing and in life. It's, um, not exactly Al Pacino's "Inches" speech from "Any Given Sunday."
1:16 -- We get an allusion toward an ominous fate for the thumbless caddie, who misses work for the third consecutive day. Speaking of menacing, remember when the mom almost burned the home to the ground? Me neither, because it hasn't been addressed.
1:22 -- The snack girl makes her second appearance of the movie. Flirtation, a walk through the course at night, there's a skinny-dipping adventure...the whole thing is clunky and gauche. Although we do get the sight of Timmy wearing his pants halfway up his chest, so there's that.
1:26 -- At the Member-Guest, Logan is struggling mightily, leading to a full-scale breakdown. We're talking club throws, cussing and dropping racial slurs at his caddie. This serves no purpose to the narrative, other than make the viewer feel extremely uncomfortable.
1:32 -- Pearse is contemplatively staring out from his trailer into the abyss. Probably wishing he had a do-over on that "balance" speech.
1:35 -- We finally discover the outcome for our friend the thumbless caddie. I'm not going to sugarcoat it: it's super dark and involves the club president. It stops the movie in its tracks, and makes the Logan-racial incident seem pleasant. Let's just move on.
1:36 -- The reveal spurs what we saw in the first scene -- Timmy running across the course at night. The thumbless caddie's dad fires a gun at the president's car and runs. At least I think that's what happens. I blacked out from shock.
1:41 -- We then get a montage of empty shots of the clubhouse, caddie shack and course, because really, how do you follow that up?
1:42 -- The final scene is a letter from Pearse wishing Timmy good luck, as Pearse is returning the trophy he undeservedly won. The narrator goes on to say he no longer belongs to a country club and plays at a public course, making the argument that public golf is somehow more pure. As a fellow public hacker, let me attest that there's nothing pure about a six-hour round.
And...that's it. Movie over.
To be fair, a movie's beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But from this man's vantage point, "A Gentleman's Game" is not a sight to be seen.