When Texas filmmaker Michael Hovis, a veteran of commercials and industrials, encountered an old friend, Babe, on a Houston putting green, he agreed to consider making an instructional video on a "perfect" golf swing Babe had devised. Hovis soon decided that Babe was so colorful and complex that he'd be a better subject for a feature film than a golf video.
The result is "The Man With the Perfect Swing," a nice little movie that Hovis claims is "mostly true." It depends too much on a knowledge and passion for golf for its own good, and for all its technical polish, lacks sufficient energy and punch to engage and sustain one's constant interest. (It's really better scaled to the tube than the big screen.) What it does have is considerable warmth, compassion and good humor, lots of well-drawn, well-observed people, and best of all, it has James Black as Babe.
The film is most effective as a calling card for Black, a member of Houston's renowned Alley Theater. He makes a terrific Everyguy, the kind that sustains hit TV series. Balding and paunchy, Black exudes a sweet-natured, boyish charm as Babe. He makes it credible that Babe's pretty, younger wife (well-played by Suzanne Savoy, director of Houston's Mercury Theater) could love him and stick by him--even when he squanders so much of their puny funds that she can't even afford textbooks as a pharmaceutical student.
"The Man With the Perfect Swing" gives us an affectionate but clear-eyed portrait of a man who's had a lifelong pattern of success followed by failure in many fields but is now running out of gas, facing middle age without having grown up. He's an idea man without enough follow-through, and the line between the dreamer and the deadbeat in him has become hopelessly blurred.
By the time he's come up with his "perfect swing," he's strained his closest friendships to the limit in asking for loans that never seem to get repaid. Hovis depicts Babe going through a constant cycle of a few ups and many downs, some funny and some sad, and wisely opts for an open ending, a deft final touch for "The Man With the Perfect Swing."
* Unrated. Times guidelines: The film has a few strong words and glimpses of a topless dancer.
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'The Man With the Perfect Swing'
James Black: Babe
Suzanne Savoy: Susan
Marco Perella: Chuck Carter
James Belcher: Lou Gallo
A Perfect Swing production. Writer-director-editor Michael Hovis. Producers Angela Sembera Hovis, Michael Hovis. Cinematographer Jim Barham. Music Paul English. Art director Jeanette Scott. Set decorator Christopher Stull. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
* Exclusively at the Monica 4-Plex, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9741.