Sports inspiration of the squishiest sort

Seven Days in Utopia

on August 30, 2011 by Nick Schager

sevendaysinutopiareview.pngFaith is the path to true triumph in Seven Days in Utopia, a squishy Hallmark Channel-level melodrama that rarely bothers to mask its propagandistic intentions. Aimed clearly at a Christian audience, Matthew Dean Russell's film (based on David L. Cook's novel Golf's Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia) layers chaste romance, clichéd father-son issues and cornball sports suspense on top of its earnest religious platitudes. All of this comes via the redemptive story of golfer Luke (Lucas Black), who, after a debut on the pro tour that ends with broken clubs and his demanding caddie daddy (Joseph Lyle Taylor) abandoning him, crashes his car in the rural idyll of Utopia. Providence is obviously what's brought him here, as no sooner has his vehicle come to a halt than sage cowboy Johnny (Robert Duvall) is at his side, taking the boy under his wing and convincing him to stay in the town for seven days, at which point he promises with the conviction of a higher power that Luke will not only reclaim his golf game, but find himself as well. To say that what follows is agitprop is an understatement, but its aggressive pandering to its devout target audience should nonetheless help it reap modest box office dividends.

Happy to take a week off from his life after his humiliating athletic conducthe disappeared for a stretch, with no concern from his friends or familyLuke spends his days in Utopia being schooled in the ways of FST, an acronym for "Feel It, See It, Trust It"just like every conversation, incident and scene, FST ultimately relates to the man upstairs. It turns out that Johnny was also once a tour golfer whose career was ruined by alcoholism and a lack of self-control on and off the green. This makes him the perfect tutor for Luke, who through bouts of fly fishing, painting and rodeo shenanigans comes to understand that playing things safe and calm is always preferable to being risky and ambitious. That conservatism also comes equipped with less pleasant undercurrents, specifically in Luke's eventual tour showdown with a Chinese superstar who embodies the very qualities Luke learns to reject. Yet graceless us-versus-them dynamics remain less prominent than the overriding aww-shucks syrupiness of the film's plotting, which also has Luke fall for a local horse whisperer (True Blood's Deborah Ann Woll) whose goal in life is to "bring freedom to horses" (whatever that means).

Seven Days in Utopia is awash in golden sunlight and inspirational orchestra music, a conventional aesthetic for its messages of spiritual uplift. The downy-soft wholesomeness of the entire affair, however, isn't married to anything approaching subtlety, a situation that extends to its performances, with Black doing a toothless bad boy-goes-good turn, Duvall sleepwalking through a wise-mentor routine that requires only sly smiles and true-believer sincerity, and the rest of the cast (including Melissa Leo in a role so peripheral it seems like she accidentally stumbled onto the set) asked to smile and frown with monotonous mechanization. Such crudeness is part and parcel of the feel-good action, though at least the early going peddles its faith-based messages softly. However, by the squishy finalewhich involves ceremonial funerals for bad impulses, hand-to-hand bible passing and sons and fathers mending fences with ridiculous alacritythe script abandons any pretense of restraint and, courtesy of inelegant narration and dialogue from Duvall, begins overtly preaching about God as the key to success, happiness and inner peace, in the process exposing the film as merely a star-studded, one-note sermon for the already converted.

Distributor: Visio Entertainment
Cast: Lucas Black, Robert Duvall, Melissa Leo, Deborah Ann Woll, Brian Geraghty
Director: Matthew Dean Russell
Screenwriters: Sandra Thrift, Matt Russell, David Cook, Rob Levine
Producers: Mark G. Mathis, Jason M. Berman
Genre: Drama
Rating: G
Running time: 100 min.
Release date: September 2 ltd.


Tags: Lucas Black, Robert Duvall, Melissa Leo, Deborah Ann Woll, Brian Geraghty

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  • Jehovah on 02 September 2011

    Where does the chip on Nick's shoulder come from? So, it's a feel-good movie. I say. "Yes!" I will support it.

  • Marty on 05 September 2011

    This movie is awesome. When the hollywood movie critics do not like it because of wholesome or religious themes, you can bet it is a good one. THey missed Passion of the Christ and Facing the Giants....and they will miss this one too.

  • dailyreader on 06 September 2011

    It wasn't FST, it was SFT. We saw this movie not knowing about the religious angle. Aside from that, it was a premise that could have worked really well, but got way heavy on the message and heavy on the corny stuff. And I agree, it got way thick at the end. The romantic interest was weird, not complete. She mentioned training to be a horse whisperer but never developed any of that.

  • Happy to be here on 07 September 2011

    And what is wrong with religous overtones? This is just another left wing, anti-religion critic who can't see the forest for the trees. It is a great movie.

  • BoC on 09 September 2011

    I think the author allowed his faith bias to prevent him from seeing what the movie could offer him. That is truly unfortunate in that this movie (the book even more so), while having a faith element, can be applied to life and golf in general as much as it can to faith. Truly unfortunate that Nick missed that!

  • shreenk on 11 September 2011

    So when Hollywood puts out a garbage film filled with unrestricted sex and Christian-bashing, that's art. But if a movie has solid values, morality and a reference to the One who created the universe, that's religious bias? Can you not see how intrusive your own bias is?

  • Moral in Chicago on 12 September 2011

    Saw it. Loved it. I'm recommending it to everyone I know.'s propaganda when a movie espouses hope, faith, and morality?? What is it when it is filled with sex, drugs, alcohol, and all forms of unchecked self-gratification? I for one am so tired of movies that I have to walk out of because of the extreme nudity and language. I say bring on the "feel good" movies. I'll be there with my money in hand.

  • GodMakesMeBetter on 12 September 2011

    Nick Schager, I'm sorry for your soul man... I do hope you have the courage to stand up to Hollywood someday rather than just write the same thing as everyone else so you can fit in. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I can’t wait to, I love good moves that don’t need porn and disgusting non-sense to sell tickets. I’ll bet Mardi gras and American pie were 5 star movies for you... I'm sure you'll learn, after puberty passes, good old “cliché” films that warm the heart and have a true meaning to them (stronger then drugs, adultery and, “the party lifestyle”) will always have a place in the hearts of millions. Your negative outlook just makes you seem dim and immature to anyone with more than 10 brain calls.

What do you think?