Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Squeeze: Wrist Breaks and Other Golf Dangers

Augie Baccus has a heck of a swing and a solid short game, but he makes Happy Gilmore look like a genius. Unfortunately, he also lacks the popular Adam Sandler character’s toughness. That will become a serious problem when he gets entangled with some dodgy professional gamblers in Terry Jastrow’s The Squeeze (trailer here), which opens this Friday in select cities.

Baccus is a dirt poor, but amiable young kid, going nowhere in rural Texas. However, he can shoot the lights out on a golf course. When the slicker-than-slick gambler known as Riverboat happens to hear his impossibly low scoring amateur tourney victory on the radio while passing through town, he recognizes an opportunity worth taking a detour. With the backing of his lover-accomplice, “The Bank,” Riverboat convinces Baccus to play for him in a series of high-stakes money games, sort of like Cruise and Newman in The Color of Money, but without the grit.

Of course, Baccus’s girlfriend Natalie is against the arrangement from the start, for moral reasons as well as the waves of bad vibes cascading off Riverboat. Baccus jumps in anyway, hoping to score some money for his battered mother and his beloved little sister. Inconveniently, Natalie’s concerns are soon justified in Las Vegas, where both Riverboat and mobbed-up gambler Jimmy Diamonds put the titular squeeze on Baccus before his million dollar match with the top-ranked youth-amateur.

Tin Cup was such a great golf film because it captured the inviting feeling of a lush green course on a sunny day that is not too hot and has a pleasant breeze blowing. The Squeeze does not do that, but at least it honestly seems to enjoy the game, beyond using it as a plot device.

Reportedly, Jeremy Sumpter was cast as Baccus because of his golf skills, which makes sense, because his bland white-bread screen presence doesn’t do much to move the needle. While the film is ostensibly about Baccus (modeled on the real life Texas Phenom Keith Flatt), it is much more interested in Riverboat’s Cheshire cat grin and Natalie’s legs. As the latter, Jillian Murray (from Cabin Fever: Patient Zero) certainly looks the part and expresses Natalie’s ethical and religious reservations without sounding hopelessly moralistic, which is something.

Nevertheless, Christopher McDonald is the real show. Essentially, he revisits his Shooter McGavin persona from Happy Gilmore, but takes delight in upping the villainous ante. He is consistently fun to watch, but Michael Nouri looks kind of weird as the bleach blond Diamonds. What was that all about?

Jastrow and his wife, co-producer Anne Archer have been dubbed “Super Scientologists” in the media, but it is hard to pick up on any overt references to Overlord Xenu or “Suppressive People” in The Squeeze. Frankly, it is largely rather by-the-numbers stuff, but McDonald makes it worth watching on cable or Netflix streaming. He can slyly turn a witty line and then pull off a goofy bit of physical comedy. Honorary Oscars ought to go to character actor mainstays like him, but instead they are determined by Hollywood popularity contests. Mostly just a harmless time-kill, golf movie fans can safely wait when The Squeeze opens Friday (4/17) in Denver at the AMC Highlands Ranch and Los Angeles at the Laemmle Playhouse.