If God cares who wins the Texas Open, he didn’t put it in the Bible. However, the creators of Seven Days in Utopia might beg to differ. To start off, this is an extremely well meaning, yet unfortunately very bad movie. Not even Robert Duvall’s presence can save this blunder of a picture. Relative newcomer Lucas Black plays professional golfer Luke Chisolm. We’re told time and again that he’s a good golfer, although until the very end this is never demonstrated. One day, he let’s his nerves get the better of him and he shoots a disastrous fourteen on the eighteenth whole. To rub salt in the wound, his father/caddie walks away from him in embarrassment. Hurt and angry, he throws his clubs in his trunk, gets in the car and just drives wherever his wheels will drive him. Of course, he gets distracted and crashes into a field in the quaint little town of Utopia, Texas. Little does he know that the town harbors an ex-pro golfer named Johnny Crawford (Robert Duvall). Johnny tells Luke that if he will just spend a week in Utopia, he’ll be able to play great golf the rest of his life (not to mention become a better person). Unusually, Johnny doesn’t ask Luke for his credit card or social security numbers.
I heard through the grapevine that Lucas Black once turned down a role in a film because the director wanted him to drop his southern drawl. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but if it is, it proves my thesis that Lucas Black is a very bad actor. The last picture I saw him in was Get Low. Well, he’s significantly worse in this. His emotions seem limited to a blank stare and his reactions consist of throwing his cap down in anger, nodding in approval, and making a super-macho “ooooohhhhh!” sound. Anyway, he doesn’t seem to be any more interested in Utopia than in the PGA tour. Utopia is one of those stereotypical small towns where everyone knows everyone and the gene pool is more stagnant than a mosquito’s spawning ground. This is a terrible, horrible cliché in motion pictures. Big cities are portrayed as enormous jungles of fear, while Sarsaparilla Springs is just a big community of colloquial love. Even the troublemakers in Utopia are nice as cherry pie. I’m getting tired of this love affair with small towns. Sure, people may be nice, but they also have an average IQ of 95. Utopia is a nice, warm puddle of human ignorance where the only subject anyone excels in is good manners.
Luke agrees to stay in Utopia until his car is fixed, meanwhile Johnny takes him on a number of adventures designed to improve his gold game (although none of the activities have the slightest bit to do with golf). Oh boy! They go fly-fishing, they go washer-pitching (which is like horseshoes without the horseshoes), they take a small plane up in the air during which Johnny cuts the engine and demands Luke land the plane on his own. It’s a barrel of fun. They even take the time to paint a pretty picture. All of this I’m sure helps build patience and self-control needed to play good golf, but I’m pretty sure most people get good at golf by playing it. Of course, anyone who knows how inspirational media goes will catch on that these activities have nothing to do with golf, but are designed to build Luke’s character as a man. He’s told to “see it, feel it, trust it”. Of course “it” turns out to be God in the end. After each of these fruitless exercises, Johnny comes up with a philosophical proverb that vaguely connects the activity to golf.
During his free time, Johnny finds Sarah, a redheaded belle to wander chastely about the countryside with. I sat up in my seat in excitement as she announced she had been studying! (O wow! A first for this town!) But then my hopes were dashed when she announced she’s studying to be . . . no, not a journalist or an architect or a cellular biologist or a mathematician. She’s studying to be a horse whisperer! And the list of ways this picture disappoints me just keeps getting longer. It does, however, provide Luke with a very R-rated come on line that goes something like, “When’m I gonna see ya do some horse whisperin’?” (Very sexy . . . ). Melissa Leo plays Sarah’s mother in a completely wasteful and underexposed role. The best actress of the year is pigeonholed into looking sweet and reminding gentlemen of their good manners. Such a shame.
All of this nonsense gets to be a bore after a while, so the director has inserted some very artsy flashback scene into Luke’s childhood where daddy pushed him too hard to be a good golfer. Apparently Mr. Chisholm is one of those leech parents who lives their dreams vicariously through their children. He’s one of those cringe worthy character who you’d just like to pummel in the face. Of course at the end they hug and make up (by the way, every hug in this picture is accompanied by a pat on the back). Meanwhile in Utopia, Luke continues his journey to holiness. In the last half of the film it begins to wreak with preaching. We learn all kinds of great values and there’s all sorts of hidden references to the Bible; however I had enough when they actually throw in a condemnation of alcohol. Good God, this picture has audacity! I’m thinking, “Come on, Bobby Duvall! You’ve had a drop or two in your time! Remember that scene in The Godfather?” Duvall is pretty much playing himself throughout this odyssey, and himself isn’t very compelling as a character or as a mentor. His entire role is dedicated to spewing pithy sayings you might find as chapter subtitles in a self-help book.
The last ten or so minutes of the picture are Luke’s return to golf. By now, nobody cares if he’s any good at the game, just that he goes to church on Sunday. For the sake of the review, I’m going to describe the final moments of the film, so if you care enough about being surprised by the ending, read no more. To be perfectly honest, by the end of the movie it doesn’t matter what happens. It’s already sunk by the prior mess. Anyway, it gets down to the nitty-gritty. If Luke makes this putt, he wins the Texas Open! He takes aim, he hits the ball, it rolls toward the cup, and then the camera pans up. Cliffhanger! The following montage is Robert Duvall soliloquizing about what a changed man Luke is and how he’s learned to put his character before the game. Then he says, “I suppose you’re wondering if he made the putt? I guess the better question is, does it really matter?” I guess a better question is, “Does anybody care?” Short answer: no. Of course, if you really are dying to find out, you can always go to the website linked at the start of the closing credits (talk about an intellectual insult!).
Here is a sunny, hopeful, feel good movie that drowns in its own sentimentality. What an absolute bore. This is the kind of movie where every time a character opens his or her mouth, an inspiration speech flows out while dramatic stringed music plays in the background. I got out my maple syrup can to catch the sap falling on me. I will say this, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, which is to say it’s not as bad as Faith Like Potatoes. Still, this is a horribly inferior film with little to offer but boredom and sentiment. It seems that Christians can’t make good movies any more. What happened to those great Biblical epics like The Ten Commandments, or those wonderful Church pictures like A Man for All Seasons. Watching this movie is like watching a car accident, except way less interesting . . .