In “Seven Days in Utopia,” a mild-mannered young golfer has a mild meltdown in the middle of a tournament. That’s followed by seven days of perspective-patching among mild-mannered God-fearing folk in rural Texas. Faith and “fore” walk hand in hand — sort of — in this soft-centered faith-based drama starring Lucas Black of “Friday Night Lights,” “Get Low” and “Jarhead.”
Based on David L. Cook’s self-help novel, Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia, first-time director Matthew Dean Russell’s film follows aspiring pro Luke Chisholm (Black) as he explodes in a contained fury in a televised tourney where he had hoped to earn his pro tour card.
We’ve met the somewhat domineering dad (Joseph Lyle Taylor) who still caddies for his son and caused Luke to snap. We then follow Luke as he flees the spotlight and the embarrassment of his worst day on the course, turning up at a ranch in a small town where he figures nobody will know who he is.
Robert Duvall is the sage old rancher, Johnny Crawford, a fellow who enters Luke’s life on horseback. He takes the golfer in (Luke has dinged his car) and makes him ponder the great questions of golf — “How could a game have such an affect on a man’s soul?”
Luke takes life lessons from Johnny, lessons that can be applied on the course. He swaps wisecracks with the locals. And he meets the fetching Sarah (Deborah Ann Woll), who is “trainin’ to be a horse whisperer.”
Oscar winner Melissa Leo and wonderful character actress Kathy Baker are here to lend, well, character. But mostly, this is about Johnny playing golf guru to Luke — making him visualize and “paint” (literally) the shot he visualizes, ordering him to learn balance by standing up in a canoe, patience by fly fishing.
“I need to know why you do the things you do,” Johnny says. “Find some CONVICTION.”
If golf is “a good walk, spoiled,” then “Seven Days” is a potentially good golf movie stuck in a water hazard — as in “watered down.” It goes in the rough with the staging of Luke’s infamous “meltdown.” Yeah, it’s a game about decorum and self-control, and yes, this blow-up happens on TV. But ask 40 golfers about their worst tantrum on the course, and 35 of them will top this milder-than-mild one. In flashbacks, we see the (mildly) domineering dad who set the stage for Luke’s bad day and get a sense of the (mild, again) pressures the kid is under. Perhaps that explains the lack of heat in the meltdown.
The movie opens with a Bible quotation — Isaiah 30:21, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” But the film seems to lose its nerve about this, too, soft-selling religion as it rubs rough edges off the characters.
“Seven Days” is beautifully shot — all rosy-hued back-lit back-swings. And Black, an avid golfer, makes a very convincing pro. The film’s charm comes from its lighter moments. Duvall and Black have a warm mentor-student rapport.
But “Seven Days in Utopia” (Cook co-wrote the script with Russell and Central Florida screenwriter Sandra Thrift, among others) lacks surprises, from Johnny’s “dark” past to his own life altering mistakes. And it lacks much in the line of tension, as we work our way right down the middle of the fairway toward the predictable “big game” (tournament) finish.
It’s not a sport that lends itself to great filmmaking, but as we saw with “Tin Cup” and “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” there are ways to finesse that — with color, with humor, with creative shot-making. This one treats its subject as if it’s a tap-in for par, and thus, most of the best clubs were left in the bag.
MPAA Rating: G
Cast: Lucas Black, Robert Duvall, Melissa Leo, Kathy Baker, Deborah Ann Woll (Sarah).
Credits: Directed by Matt Russell, based on David L. Cook’s novel, produced by Jason Michael Berman and Mark G. Mathis. A Utopia Pictures release.
Running time: 1:49