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Thursday
Sep012011

Seven Days in Utopia

“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.” Isaiah 30:21

Seven Days in Utopia begins with this Bible verse, which works in multiple ways, as a hint at the story to come and as an indication that, yep, this is a religious movie. These types of films come in two forms: those that are preachy and those that aren’t. The former is much more common than the latter, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this follows suit. Based on the book “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia” by David L. Cook, Seven Days in Utopia is silly, unrealistic and condescending. Religious or not, this isn’t worth your time.

Luke Chisholm (Lucas Black) is a down on his luck golfer. After botching the 18th hole in a recent tournament, thus costing him the victory, he hops in his car and begins to drive. He ends up in Utopia, Texas, his car broken down after swerving to miss a cow. It’s a small town with a population of only 373 (375 if you include the twin babies born last week) and a place where everyone knows everyone and going to church isn’t a decision; it’s your duty to the Lord. Luke eventually runs into Johnny Crawford (Robert Duvall), who just so happens to be a PGA legend and tells Luke he can help him get his game back if he stays in Utopia for one week. Besides, his car is broken down, so what does he have to lose? Luke agrees and through Johnny’s lessons, he begins to learn that golf is only a sport and winning isn’t everything. It’s the people in your life that matter most.

Basically, Seven Days in Utopia is Cars, only with golf instead of racing. The difference between the two is that Cars wasn’t pushing a Christian agenda. Both movies were simple stories about finding your bliss, but this one has the gall to suggest you can’t truly be happy without Christianity, a message that, of course, is false and misleading. During his weeklong stay, Luke is forced to fly fish, paint and even fly a plane (the latter a ridiculous and dangerous stunt), which teach him to be patient, trusting and calm, traits that don’t only describe the game of golf, but also faith. To these characters, everything relates back to Christianity and they see divine intervention everywhere, even in stark contradictions. They’re like the devout religious folks who thank God one day for the beautiful sunshine and the next for the rain replenishing the Earth.

When they talk of dead relatives, taken away by cancer well before their time, they speak in religious clichés (“God works in mysterious ways,” one says), which suggest certain lives are more important than others, a mindset I’ve never truly been able to comprehend. Still, it’s not like these characters are bad people, though that’s probably because they’re hardly people at all. They’re not fleshed out in a way that makes them feel real. Watching the film, it feels like you’ve stumbled on an undiscovered civilization of people so stern in their beliefs that they’ve never heard the other options (come to think of it, I don’t recall a single science book in the entire movie), and they act oddly, never in the way expected of certain situations, which makes each scene feel like a contrived and manufactured set-up.

Late in the movie, after Luke has learned his life lessons, a song pops up with lyrics that detail exactly what has happened up to that point (“Today I found myself after searching all these years” and “I was lost when you found me here, I was broken beyond repair”). The song is supposed to work the emotions; the only one it does is laughter, so, you know, success. The song is a relatively minor part of the movie and hardly means anything when compared to the mess of the larger picture, but its minor problems don’t end there. The cast is wasted—I simply cannot fathom why Melissa Leo was in this thing—the golf scenes are inauthentic (the audio cues are too loud in relation to the crowd) and it ends on an ambiguous note, directing the viewer, I kid you not, to a website to “continue the journey.” As of the time of this writing, the website is blank, but one can only assume it will do little to clear the air of the film and will instead spend more time trying to convert its visitors.

Seven Days in Utopia wants to teach life lessons about being at peace and loving one another, but when I walked out, I found I had learned only one thing. Thanks to the aggressive product placement of all things golf related, including hats, clubs, club covers, shirts, bags and balls, Callaway must be a damn fine company.

Seven Days in Utopia receives 1/5

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