Inspiration on life's fairway
By Sean O'Connell
Friday, Sep 02, 2011
If we graded films with golf terminology instead of stars, I'd tell you "Seven Days in Utopia" shot for par. The faith-based sports fable's score card would show an equal amount of birdies and mulligans. And while "Utopia" wouldn't make the cut at a PGA Tour event, it musters just enough goodwill to be able to hold its head high around other golfers in the clubhouse.
The film opens with Luke Chisholm (Lucas Black), a short-tempered rookie on the pro golf circuit who is dealing with the repercussions of a major-league, on-course meltdown. Not Tiger-in-an-SUV-on-Thanksgiving bad, but detrimental enough that it shakes Chisholm's confidence and alienates him from his tough-minded father (Joseph Lyle Taylor).
Because "Utopia" director Matt Russell insists on playing his drama as straight as a fairway, Luke literally finds himself driving down a deserted highway until his car reaches a crossroad. Subtle.
To the left awaits the headaches and hardships of the pro tour. To the right? The haven of Utopia, Tex. - the kind of cozy, close-knit Southern town that exists only on the big screen, where the beautiful diner waitress (Deborah Ann Woll) needs romancin', the stubborn town bully (Brian Geraghty) needs schoolin' and a kindly old cowboy named Johnny - who just happens to be a former PGA Tour professional - needs an empty vessel of a student to whom he can dispense volumes of well-crafted yet obvious words of wisdom.
"Utopia," based on David L. Cook's book "Golf's Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia," caters to specific audience members who go to the movies once or twice a year seeking uplifting yet unrealistic narratives. Efficient editing helps to keep the film interesting. Dependable character actors Kathy Baker and Oscar winner Melissa Leo ("The Fighter") lend credence to minor (as in "nonexistent") supporting roles. But Russell's reliance on corny, cowpoke cliches and greeting-card-worthy sentiments will have some viewers wondering how "Utopia" avoided a Saturday evening slot on the Lifetime, Hallmark or Inspiration channels.
Part of the reason we're talking about "Utopia" at all is because the great Robert Duvall plays Johnny. And though this sage character is written as a Zen hybrid of Mr. Miyagi, Yoda and Doc Hudson from Pixar's "Cars," Duvall tugs and pokes at the shapeless role until it fits him like a pair of broken-in chaps. In the Oscar winner's hands, Johnny crosses over from improbable caricature to sturdy father figure, a spiritual caddie willing to accompany
Chisholm on his 18-hole journey toward personal redemption.
"Utopia" embraces gentle, Christian messages of encouragement and fortitude, which - while far from groundbreaking - bear repeating. Yet Russell's spoon-feeding of motivational nuggets turns to full-blown shoveling in the film's final minutes, as Luke re-enters tournament play and faces his rival (real-life PGA Tour player K.J. Choi) in a predictable round of playoff golf.
With all due respect to Cook's novel, another book - the Bible - teaches us that on the seventh day, God gave it a rest. "Seven Days in Utopia" should have followed His lead.
Contains nothing objectionable.