Just about everyone loves a great sports film. Actually, just about everyone loves even a decent sports film. Even the most casual fanatic’s DVD collection will probably contain at least a copy of Rocky. Sports is a drama all its own, but once it’s magnified on the big screen, it allows for all the minute details that get overlooked in a live broadcast to take center stage. The game of golf is one of the sports that lend itself to great story telling because of its intangibles. It’s one of the most intimate games ever invented; a single person’s battle against the field of play and themselves. A few films that have portrayed this internal conflict brilliantly are Tin Cup and The Legend of Bagger Vance. Seven Days in Utopia may only have had a “hole in one’s” chance to throw itself into that league, but any outside shot vanished three quarters of the way through the film when the writers dumped the golf aspect in favor of an infomercial for God.
Luke Chisholm (Lucas Black, Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) is an up and coming golfer new to the pro tour. During one tournament, he has a very public meltdown on the course and his father/caddy ends up walking out on him during play. Embarrassed, he drives to the middle of nowhere and accidentally drives his car off the road in the very small town of Utopia. There he meets Johnny Crawford (Robert Duvall, Get Low, The Godfather) a one-time pro golfer himself who takes an instant liking to Chisholm and offers to mentor his golf game by teaching him the need of balance in other areas of life.
Sounds at least watchable right? Surely not an original idea but it’s a sports movie with Bobby D acting as a Mr. Miyagi type golf guru, illustrating to Black’s character how to improve his golf swing by taking part in other activities like painting, fly fishing and piloting a small aircraft. The film does come off a little like a Family Channel movie of the week, but the golf seems to be very authentic and detailed information on the mechanics of the sport gives the characters credibility. Duvall and Black’s characters are well thawed out but the supporting cast is mostly just background noise, and a waste of time for an actress like Melissa Leo (The Fighter) who plays Crawford’s best friend Lily. Crawford’s alternative takes on golf are somewhat interesting and Duvall has an amazing ability to gain the immediate trust of the audience. Black has a very limited acting range but he too has that “innocent small-town folk” thing down cold, and plays off of Duvall’s character for just the right chemistry needed.
However then the third act starts and the vacation is over. Yes, the writers hope you enjoyed your stay in Utopia, but now it’s time to sell you that timeshare. And by timeshare I mean God. At least the blatant Callaway endorsements that wallpaper this film are bearable, as sponsorships are a big part of the sport, but when a film flat out abandons its own story to preach a life involving God, integrity has left the theater. Seven Days in Utopia does open by displaying a verse from the Bible, which could be taken as completely innocuous, but then doesn’t mention the subject again until the audience finds themselves swimming in it, looking around for a life saver from Noah.
Normally, the most egregious act a writer can make in a film review is to give away important story elements or, as they are called, “spoilers.” However, this is more of a “buyers beware.” A night out for a family of four to the movies is anything but cheap these days, and before anyone slides their credit card under the ticket window they have at least the right to know what kind of film they’re getting into. Anyone not of the same religious beliefs will be immediately alienated and pulled out of the story when the film becomes baptized, and it should also infuriate moviegoers who thought they had been watching a story about the game of golf.
Duvall’s character spends 80% of the film trying to improve Chisholm’s golf game and then in one fall swoop explains that results or making a put doesn’t even matter. Well maybe that’s true in church or a bible verse, but this started out as a sports film where the ending does matter. Unfortunately the writers decided that the ending was so insignificant compared to their message that they decided to not include it in the actual film at all. Like a GoDaddy.com commercial, the audience is directed to a website to view the conclusion of the story and no doubt some more “life messages.”
What’s incredibly ironic and hypocritical is that a film with a message of the importance of God in one’s life is lacking in the area of honesty. If the writers wanted to present how the lack of God’s presence in Chisholm’s life was detrimental, then the story needed to have more intricate comparisons. Just stating that there are more important aspects of life is weak and lazy, the story needed examples in the character’s backstory as to why this is justified or some kind of conflict within the story itself to make the character realize that life is more than just about winning, instead Chisholm just continually flashes back to moments with his overbearing father and conforms to Crawford’s preaching like he’s just been “healed” by a TV evangelist. In The Legend of Bagger Vance, the subject of God is alluded to, even Will Smith’s character is assumed to be some kind of angel or holy spirit, but the film never derails itself from it’s subject, the game of golf. Seven Days in Utopia could easily have been about bowling as much as it was about golf because its main agenda is not to tell a sports’ story, but instead to convey that people need God in their life.
At least when you get a knock at the door early Sunday morning you know what you’re in for if you answer. But if they were to start using legendary actors like Robert Duvall . . . well that’s just dirty pool.
Replay Value: 3.0
Total = 4.9 out of 10