Paxton’s ‘game’ isn’t so great

Jon Greenberg

Despite its sports hits of past, Disney’s The Greatest Game Ever Played lacks a strong enough script even to keep its under-12 audience fully entertained. While at times an emotional success, the brief story and shaky dialogue give director Bill Paxton little to work with.

Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf) is a caddie in a world where it’s made quite clear that caddies can never be golfers. Across the Atlantic, Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane) is the most respected British golfer of all time. In standard Disney fashion, Ouimet works against all odds to earn the respect of his father – and America – and prove that he can determine his own destiny.

But before doing so, Ouimet must prove that he’s worthy of his surprise invitation to the U.S. Open as an amateur, and he must go head-to-head against the very man he idols – Vardon. In a story about a young man who comes from nothing to achieve greatness, Disney’s newest sports film stalls because there isn’t enough plot to sustain the film’s 113-minute running time.

In spite of a solid and seemingly natural performance from LaBeouf (Constantine, Even Stevens), Paxton is stylistically stuck, for the film must walk the same course as Disney sports movies of late (think Miracle). What The Greatest Game Ever Played lacks, however, is a conflict worth believing. While Miracle was able to re-create the tensions of the Cold War, Mark Frost’s screenplay attempts to forge a rivalry between the U.S. and Britain that seems entirely unnatural for 1913, resulting in forced and rather unintelligent dialogue.

In the end, this relatively amazing story was poorly adapted for the screen, resulting in overacting from the supporting roles, particularly Arthur Ouimet (Elias Koteas), and relatively cheesy graphics for underage appreciation. If you’re in the mood for a feel-good sports movie, it’s worth a shot. Otherwise, feel free to play through.

– Jon Greenberg