Mark Reviews Movies

Seven Days in Utopia


1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Matthew Dean Russell

Cast: Lucas Black, Robert Duvall, Deborah Ann Woll, Melissa Leo, Brian Geraghty, Joseph Lyle Taylor

MPAA Rating: G

Running Time: 1:39

Release Date: 9/2/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 1, 2011

It takes a lot of testicular fortitude to spend over 90 minutes proclaiming golf to be the greatest thing man has ever created—a metaphor for life itself that provides the tools to find oneself and allows one to do whatever he might put his mind to—only to announce in the final seconds that, actually, golf isn't really that important after all. That is exactly what Seven Days in Utopia does in a most maddening, ill-conceived finale.

The ending is only a minute part of what the movie does wrong, though it is a spectacularly mistaken move. No, Seven Days in Utopia is doomed pretty much from the outset and only continues to the dig the hole in which it finds itself.

The opening moments document the tortured mental state of our protagonist, a professional golfer named Luke Chisholm (Lucas Black). In a tantrum of overzealous form, first-time director Matthew Dean Russell intercuts Luke's frustrated drive down a rural Texas road with images of his nervous breakdown shortly before, complete with deafening exclamation points of sound editing that make the sheathing and unsheathing of a golf club sound like a war is about to break out on the course. Just wait until he snaps his putter in half.

Through the aurally assaultive flashback and the equally cringe-worthy but quieter ones that follow, we learn that Luke has daddy issues. Dad (Joseph Lyle Taylor) really, really, really wanted his son to take up golf, regularly keeping him out until sundown and even ignoring church services on Easter (This, it turns out, is his greatest crime, if one follows the movie's guiding principles, but we'll get to that, unfortunately, later) just so the boy could have that additional time for practice. So when Luke chokes at a professional tournament (Again, just wait until the auditory pounding of multiple strokes in a water hazard or sand trap), dad walks away, sending Luke into a fit of rage.

This puts him in the small town of Utopia, where, after crashing through a fence, he must wait for his car to be repaired. Fortunately, the owner of that fence is Johnny Crawford (Robert Duvall, who could play the wise mentor in his sleep and probably should have in this case), and, even more fortunately, he was once a professional golfer himself, who, most fortunately of all, overcame some personal problems to make for himself a content and peaceful life.

The town of Utopia is the sort of place where everybody knows everybody else's business. There's Sarah (Deborah Ann Woll), a waitress at the local diner whose dream is to become a horse whisperer. She and Luke start a romance so chaste that she might as well be a nun with a strict obedience to her vows—the furthest they get is her hint that maybe, perhaps one day, they can share a kiss on the lips.

As if there isn't enough conflict within Luke, the script (by Russell, Rob Levine, Sandra Thrift, and David L. Cook, based on his book) gives us a young buck with affections toward Sarah played by Brian Geraghty. The movie is abundantly hokey in its presentation of down-home values, and while the way this potential suitor goes about fixing for a fight with Luke for simply looking at Sarah is artificial enough, the resolution to the tension between the two is just baffling. After a game of tossing washers into a hole in the ground, they suddenly become the best of buddies.

In between his adventures with the townsfolk, Luke receives lessons on golf from Johnny. They include spending a day painting what a shot will look like and, in a scene that seems to put an almost suicidal spin to Johnny's motives, taking control of a plane for the first time as it starts to steadily lose altitude. Then the movie takes a turn out in left field, as Johnny reveals his true intentions: to proselytize Luke to Christianity.

So we're back to where we started with the climax. After establishing golf as the be-all and end-all of Luke's life and struggle, the script gives us a clichéd big match where he can prove himself (with television sports broadcasters spouting redundant and expositional information that we really don't need and quickly start to detest). It builds and builds until a final, determining putt. Then Seven Days in Utopia simply ends in neither victory nor defeat—only the collective sound of slapping foreheads.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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