"Seven Days in Utopia" is based on the 2009 David Cook inspirational bestseller that carries the more imposing title "Golf's Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia." If you thought the golf movie "The Legend of Bagger Vance" was a great big heap of hoo-ha, you ain't seen nothing yet.
I used to think baseball was the sport that people got all mystical-moony over, but now I'm not so sure. I've never understood what exactly is so spiritual about whacking a golf ball, but then again I'm no golfer, unless it's the miniaturized variety.
"Seven Days in Utopia," of course, like most sports movies with higher aspirations, tries to position itself as more than a sports movie. And lo and behold, it is – sort of.
Luke Chisholm (Lucas Black) is a top-notch Texas golfer whose martinet father (Joseph Lyle Taylor) pushes him to the brink. When, playing miserably, Luke has a meltdown during a tournament, he flees in his car and ends up stranded in the tiny township of Utopia, pop. 373.
There he is taken under the wing of the kindly, avuncular Johnny, played by Robert Duvall, who can do this stuff in his sleep but, fortunately, doesn't. An ex-golfer with his own private course, Johnny spends a week imparting life lessons before sending Luke back into the world a wiser fellow.
Johnny ruined his career and his marriage with drink, but he's risen above all that. He trusts feelings, not thinking, preaching the doctrine of SFT – "see it, feel it, trust it."
The movie does pretty much the same thing. If you think about it too long you'll collapse in giggles or groans, but it's expertly touchy-feely, and it does get to you in the end. It's a lot more cornball – i.e., enjoyable – than "The Tree of Life," which tried for some of the same things. Utopia, with its big blue skies and peachy-keen people, may not rank right up there with Shangri-La, but it's close enough.
Johnny is a familiar rural archetype – the old coot as sage. His unorthodox ways of improving Luke's golf game – having him paint pictures, sending him up in a prop plane and cutting the engine – are, as Johnny is the first to admit, really about life improvement. And, although he isn't a Holy Roller type, the counsel Johnny imparts is eminently religious. When the life lessons wind down, he presents Luke with a Bible and reminds him that God and His purpose "is all around us."
Most movies with a spiritual undertow back away from even this meager amount of explicit religiosity. It's refreshing that Johnny, and the movie, don't pull any punches.
At the same time, Johnny's preachments about winning not being everything ring a bit hollow in a film that, for all its efforts otherwise, seems to be about, well, winning.
But director Matthew Dean Russell and his trio of coscreenwriters have done something I've never seen before. When Luke gets his groove back and ends up in a sudden-death face-off with a PGA champ, he attempts to sink a long putt – at which point the end credits inform us that if we want to find out what happened we'll have to go to www.didhemaketheputt.com.
You see, it doesn't really matter if Luke wins, just as long as he's a better person. Meantime, I dare you not to go to that website. Grade: B- (Rated G.)