Seven Days in Utopia is perhaps the most blatant piece of propaganda I have recently come across in mainstream cinema. The new “inspirational” sports drama, based on the novel Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia, follows young pro golfer Luke Chisholm (Lucas Black) as he learns zen and the art of proper putting technique under the tutelage of reformed drunk and retired PGA golfer Johnny Crawford (Robert Duvall) in Utopia, Texas.
This film treads entirely on the surface and how Luke ends up in Utopia is inconsequential. Suffice it to say that after a dismal performance at the previous year’s Texas Open complete with grown man temper tantrums, the relationship between Luke and his overbearing father and caddy implodes on national television. Still haunted by the event, Luke drives off in a huff towards Utopia, narrowly misses hitting a cow in the middle of the road, and instead crashes into Johnny’s fence. Just like God’s green earth, the car will take seven days to make new again, which is perfect because that’s exactly how long it takes for Luke to get back his game face under Johnny’s ever watchful eye.
What follows is a bland sequence of formulaic events spanning the titular seven days and the following PGA Texas Open. By divine grace, Johnny just happens to have built a golf course in this town of less than 500 people and each day Luke learns a different lesson about life and golf in an unorthodox way. “[Blank] is a lot like golf,” says Johnny, and like a white southern Mr. Miyagi he proceeds to tutor Luke in the ways of fly fishing, painting, and even aviation, all the while insisting that these activities have connections to “the game.” And as any good man with daddy issues can do, Luke rolls his eyes and obeys.
It isn’t until the third act that Seven Days clumsily morphs from a run-of-the-mill inspiration film into one of outright evangelical Christian recruitment. I was not entirely prepared to find Luke on his knees crying in prayer, or see Johnny stride into church on Easter morning with a country-rock song repeating the words “born again” playing in the background. The Christian angle even includes a chaste romantic relationship between Luke and Sarah, a drink of sweet southern tea played by Deborah Ann Woll (ironically of True Blood fame). There’s nothing more awkward then watching adults stumble through a conversation like they’re at a 5th grade dance. They get to hug!
Recruitment of any kind requires action and that’s precisely what we get as Seven Days presents the audience with probably the most random ending I have ever seen. Per the sports film formula, Luke is in the showdown of his life to determine the winner of the Texas Open. He takes out his secret weapon, a club bestowed to him by Johnny, and takes his shot. Freeze! The camera then pans upward towards the heavens before we are able to see if in fact fly fishing is the secret to sinking a putt. I sat through this movie, even resisted a bathroom break, to see this guy get his mandatory redemption and instead I was met with a black screen and the phrase, “To continue the journey…go to www.didhemaketheputt.com.” Yes, a website. Needless to say, this was met with laughs at our screening. If the website (which launches today) is anything like the one for the book, it is a direct call for church membership.
Religious browbeating aside, Seven Days is at its core a poorly made film. Director Matthew Dean Russell cuts hard and fast in an attempt to create moments of drama and emotion where, quite frankly, there are none to be had. Four screenwriters are credited for this film and it shows with dialogue that is stilted, hokey, and devoid of the very conviction the movie is trying to impress upon viewers. And for a film that probably didn’t need any, Seven Days also features some of the worst effects shots I’ve seen all year which is disappointing given Russell’s background as an effects supervisor.
This film is obviously made for a subculture I don’t understand, and I want to respect it as such. I could actually forgive its self-righteousness if the film was able to tell a good story in an interesting way. But it doesn’t. Ultimately, Seven Days in Utopia is an advertisement that treats its audience like sheep in every way imaginable.
Seven Days in Utopia opens wide in Philly-area theaters today.