By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
Look out if you’re not interested, pay attention if you are: a golf flick is coming your way.
Doesn’t happen that often. Playing behind such end-of-the-last-century offerings as Caddyshack, Tin Cup, and Happy Gilmore, The Legend of Bagger Vance, The Greatest Game Ever Played, and A Gentleman’s Game were perhaps this century’s first three.
But Seven Days in Utopia, as the title might indicate, is not par for the course. It’s unique in that it’s a faith-based golf drama. That’s right — it’s about playing golf, finding God, then playing golf better. Among other things.
Lucas Black — who also served as an executive producer — plays Luke Chisolm, a talented young Texas golfer intent on making the pro tour.
After a disastrous debut (nothing less than a meltdown in a nationally televised tournament in which Luke loses his focus and his composure), his father, working as his caddy, walks off the green in disgust in the middle of the match because he thinks his son has choked.
Subsequently and consequently, Luke drops out, confused and mortified and devastated.
He gets in his car and drives away from the limelight and the pressure, along the back roads of Texas. When he accidentally wrecks the car by riding off the road, he finds himself stranded in tiny Utopia, Texas (population: under 400) for the titular week.
There, Luke goes into hiding, and an eccentric rancher and (it just so happens) former PGA professional named Johnny Crawford, played by Robert Duvall, offers him golf lessons that are really life lessons, in order to provide Luke with a new way of looking at his existence.
Luke also comes to know the fetching Sarah Hawkins, a waitress played by Deborah Ann Woll; her mom, Lily, played by Melissa Leo; Johnny’s sister, Mabel, a hostess played by Kathy Baker; and Jake, a romantic rival played by Brian Geraghty.
But it’s Crawford who tells Luke that he can restore him to golf glory in just seven days.
Which he does, enough so that Luke can compete in the Texas Open with a whole new perspective in his back pocket. Front pocket, too.
Director Matthew Dean Russell — working from a screenplay that he collaborated on with Rob Levine, Sandra Thrift, and executive producer David Cook (who’s a sports psychologist) that’s based on Cook’s best-selling 2009 novel, Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia — delivers a spiritual drama that mines the metaphoric value of golf for all it’s worth.
Maybe for more than it’s worth.
The script reminds us on several occasions that there are no accidents. All part of God’s plan. Duly noted.
But then that must also be the explanation for any awkward coincidences, which screenplays shouldn’t feature.
This screenplay also includes a new wrinkle that will involve and even fascinate some viewers while disappointing or even infuriating others: the specifics will not be detailed here, but let’s just say that, late in the game, the film withholds expected information and suggests another way for interested audience members to avail themselves of it. Enough said.
Black’s Luke (as in Skywalker?) and Duvall’s Johnny, a combination of The Empire Strikes Back‘s “Yoda” and The Karate Kid‘s “Mr. Miyagi,” combine in a low-keyed way to raise the film’s game as only a solid young actor playing off a solid old actor can do.
Two fine actresses, Leo and Baker, on the other hand, are wasted.
Seven Days in Utopia is about finding faith, seeing the bigger picture, and improving not just one’s game but one’s life after substituting seeing, feeling, and trusting for thinking.
As for its religious agenda, the film is only mildly preachy, but should be ashamed of its sky-high level of product placement.
That it’s a G-rated drama for grownups (as rare as a hole-in-one of late) should please viewers who find all other ratings troublesome.
So we’ll sink 2½ stars out of 4 for an inspirational golf drama, Seven Days in Utopia, that’s nowhere near a bogey or an eagle. Call it a birdie.