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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Review: Seven Days in Utopia

"How can a game have such an effect on a man's soul?"

So opens this movie with that question by Johnny Crawford (Robert Duvall, who also played Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird and Uncle Hub in the woefully underrated Secondhand Lions) as he reflects on Luke Chisolm (Lucas Black), a young, embattled golfer with a lot invested in the aforementioned game. Luke, having just totally messed up his pro-debut, drives in a rage to the town of Utopia, where he encounters Crawford after Luke's car gets totaled. Crawford, a veteran golfer who owns his own golf course in Utopia, offers to spend seven days tutoring Luke in a series of principals which will not only changes his game, but his life.

Okay, I'll be concise. This movie is basically Cars, but with golf and an overtly Christian message. You've got the young hot-shot who gets stranded in a rural, southwest town who learns from this old pro about how to improve his chosen sport. Opening with Isaiah 30:21 ("And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left." ESV translation, courtesy biblegateway.com) and closing the main section with Luke grabbing a Bible and going to church, this film's Christian message is more subtle than, say, Courageous, but not by a whole lot. It's obviously a Christian film, based on an actual golf course in an actual town in Texas called Utopia (there's even a tie-in website shown at the end of the film), and the message is good, but the execution leaves a little to be desired.

The pacing is quick. Too quick. In less than ten minutes, we're introduced to the central characters, the conflict, a couple of subplots, and a minor character. All of these factors are spread like too little butter over too much bread as the movie progresses. It's not haphazardly rough and quick like The Maltese Falcon was, but at least that film was doing it on purpose in a deliberate effort to play up an aura of melodrama. It had style This movie, on the other hand, having next to no style at all, handles the pacing with clumsy fluidity. It's a partially misfired, but admittedly consistent effort.

The film is meant to be a continuing character study, and really, it tries, but the character development comes off as ham-fisted and cliched, with just a hint of of a rush. Only a minimal amount of time is spent on developing the characters, with more time spent on them doing things which I imagine are only remotely related to golf. There's no word on why Johnny wants help Luke, other than him simply being a kindly old man (to his credit, Duvall pulls off the performance of Johnny Crawford magnificently). Luke doesn't even ask why Johnny wants to help him, which I'm sure might have led to a moment reminiscent of the "Why the [heck] are you talking to me, man?" moment between Pike and Kirk in the 2009 Star Trek film. Indeed, Luke has little personality beyond being a young golfer with rage and daddy issues, resulting in a rather boring protagonist. Luke's girl Sarah (Deborah Ann Woll), on the other hand, is charismatic and charming. I loved Woll's performance, and would have loved to see more of her on screen. Heck, nearly every actor in his flick is good, they're just not directed very well.

Overall, this is an uplifting film with a good heart and good intentions, but it fails to place as anything other than a mediocre film. The ending alone is laughable at best and disappointing at worst. If you read the book and like golf, and you don't mind the flaws, you might be entertained by this film, but otherwise I'd give it a pass. Fireproof is a film with a good message, characterization, and laughs which isn't nearly as forced as this movie, so go check that out. Otherwise, I can't give Seven Days in Utopia an incredibly high score. If anyone wants to give me some insight on how the golf stuff holds up, then leave a comment and let me know.

RATING: 6.5/10

Image courtesy of impawards.com