By Ty Burr
Updated April 06, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

The retrograde novelty of a post-Tiger Woods film featuring a heaven-sent black caddy was chewed to death when The Legend of Bagger Vance was released in late 2000. But golf has always been about shutting out the real world — for millions of duffers, that’s its essence and attraction — and Robert Redford’s film is nothing if not true to the potted Zen that sells how-to videos about finding your inner swing.

Those who love the game, then, will adore the movie: The exquisitely moral period sense that Redford demonstrated in the superior A River Runs Through It functions here as nostalgia for a world where local Savannah boy Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon) can recover his soul on the links. It’s only in the title character — Junuh’s shambling-Jesus caddy — that Bagger Vance devolves into clubhouse hooey; even Will Smith can’t underplay a line like ”There’s only one shot that’s in perfect harmony with the field,” and not sound like a screenwriter with a decent weekend game. And, yes, it’s impossible to swallow the film’s dreamy contention that race was not an issue on the golf courses of 1931 Georgia. That’s a lie of the green, and it’s not the only one.

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