Utopia: A golf film ends up in the rough

I’ve al­ways wondered if uto­pia really exits. Well, ap­par­ently it’s the place where bor­ing golf movies are made.

In all ser­i­ous­ness, it’s ac­tu­ally a small town in Cent­ral Texas that serves as the set­ting for Sev­en Days in Uto­pia, a sports movie with a ser­mon on the side. Or, ac­tu­ally, maybe the ser­mon was the main course and the sport was the side dish.

Golf doesn’t ex­actly lend it­self to com­pel­ling storytelling, and dir­ect­or Mat­thew Dean Rus­sell wisely plays up the in­spir­a­tion­al part of the in­spir­a­tion­al sports movie genre with this flick, which should be pleas­ing to audi­ences that are weary of the sex, vi­ol­ence and crude lan­guage com­mon in most films today.

Sev­en Days in Uto­pia serves up some golf lingo (words like bird­ie, eagle, driver, etc.), and it even fea­tures PGA pro K.J. Choi in a minor role, but you don’t need to know any­thing about golf to un­der­stand what’s go­ing on.

The movie, based on the book Golf’s Sac­red Jour­ney: Sev­en Days at the Links of Uto­pia by Dav­id Cook, fo­cuses on Luke Chisholm (Lu­cas Black), fresh off a melt­down on the golf course. He crashes his car in­to a fence in a small town, where it just so con­veni­ently hap­pens that the fence own­er is a former PGA pro, ready to spout ad­vice and in­spir­a­tion at a mo­ment’s no­tice.

Uto­pia takes on a Kar­ate Kid vibe when Johnny Craw­ford (Robert Duvall) takes Luke un­der his wing and teaches him how to main­tain his com­pos­ure not just on the golf course, but in life as well. Dur­ing Luke’s sev­en days in Uto­pia (that’s how long it’s go­ing to take for his car to be fixed), he par­takes in ex­er­cises such as fly fish­ing, paint­ing and fly­ing a small air­plane, al­ways ques­tion­ing how that ex­er­cise is go­ing to help him be­come a bet­ter golfer.

The movie has a semb­lance of a ro­mantic plot, but those few parts are al­most com­pletely snooze-worthy. In a com­plete 180 from her True Blood vam­pire char­ac­ter Jes­sica, De­borah Ann Woll plays a sweet, horse-whisper­er-in-train­ing wait­ress named Sarah. There’s an ob­vi­ous at­trac­tion between Luke and Sarah, but they don’t even share a peck on the cheek in this abund­antly pure film.

As the big-name act­or in the cast, Duvall gives the movie some cred­ib­il­ity, and this film really ap­pears to be something near and dear to his 80-year-old heart. His per­form­ance felt sin­cere, but that alone couldn’t over­come the droll story and clich&ea­cute;d Kar­ate Kid se­quences.  

Melissa Leo should be a big name (she won an Oscar this year for her per­form­ance in The Fight­er), but here she’s re­duced to a few for­get­table lines as Sarah’s moth­er. 

There is one bit of in­ter­est­ing storytelling worth men­tion­ing; the movie ac­tu­ally ends in a cliff­hanger, leav­ing the audi­ence in the dark about wheth­er Luke made the fi­nal putt. The screen lit­er­ally fades to black and a Web site ap­pears. Will audi­ences care enough to find out the end­ing? I didn’t, and I’m prob­ably not the only one.

This little flick (it’s play­ing only in about 500 theat­ers na­tion­wide) is little bet­ter than a Hall­mark Chan­nel (or sim­il­ar) movie. I pre­dict it will find a happy home in the near fu­ture on such a cable TV chan­nel.

Movie Grade: C

You can reach at shorbrook@bsmphilly.com.

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