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Seven Days in Utopia
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by Peter Sobczynski

"When Someone Asks "You Want An Observation," You Say "No!"
1 stars

Seven Days in Utopia" is a film that celebrates things that many people hold sacred--religion, family, golf, fly-fishing and taking time to sit back and smell the roses. It celebrates these things so earnestly, in fact, that it would seem that only a churl of the most monstrous kind would dare to even contemplate criticizing such a thing;to do so would be tantamount to picking up the most adorable puppy in a litter and then drop-kicking it across a parking lot for nothing but giggles. And yet, I am willing to step up and present myself as that metaphorical drop-kicker because while this movie may be earnest and sincere as all get out, that doesn't make up for the fact that it is a singularly awful and unintentionally hilarious mess that will have anyone who isn't tuned into its peculiar wavelength--i.e. anyone with even a shred of taste, dignity or common sense--rolling in the aisles in utter disbelief at the nonsense unspooling before their increasingly incredulous eyes.

Lucas Black stars as Luke Chisholm, an up-and-coming pro golfer who has been berated since childhood by his domineering father () to be the best in the game. (How domineering is he? In a flashback, we discover that he wouldn't let the wee Luke go hunting for Easter eggs because "Sundays are for golf!") Luke's resentments finally boil over during a big golf tournament when pressure from the old man causes him to have what the TV announcers describe as a spectacular meltdown (since this is a "G"-rated movie, you can be assured that it isn't that spectacular. Anyway, Luke flees and winds up smashing his car up slightly within the limits of the bucolic little town of Utopia where he is greeted by none other than Robert Duvall himself, arriving on horseback, no less. Actually, Duvall is playing avuncular old coot Johnny Crawford (presumably not the one in "The Rifleman") and within seconds of meeting this headstrong stranger, he gives him a ride into town, gets him a meal at the local watering hole, gets the diner's comeliest waitress, Sarah (Deborah Ann Woll) to drive him over to the local motel and even gets her would-be suitor to volunteer to extricate the newcomer's car and tow it into town. Trust me, there hasn't been a small Southern town this sympathetic to outsiders in a movie since the immortal "2000 Maniacs" and we all remember how that turned out, don't we? (If we don't, just think of "Brigadoon" with a body count.)

It turns out that Johnny "Not The Rifleman" Crawford is actually a former golf pro who lost it all in a haze of booze and hideously colored pants and when he discovers who Luke really is (luckily, the diner just happens to be tuned to the Golf Channel and they just happen to be showing the longest highlight clip in broadcast history), he informs the newcomer that it will take seven days to repair his car, what with these fancy combustible engines and whatnot, and informs him that if he is willing to pay attention, he can improve the guy's game in that time. With nothing else to do, Luke agrees but son discovers to his horror that Johnny is of the Yoda-Miyagi school of teaching that favors enigmatic comments and seemingly irrelevant chores over things like the fundamentals. These lessons (which, SPOILER ALERT, turn out to be about more than just golf) find Luke visualizing a golf shot and then painting it, learning about balance by fly fishing and struggling to land an apparently malfunctioning light aircraft in a lesson that I failed to pick up on because I kept waiting for Luke to brain the old man in response. (Apparently Johnny also served as a golfing guru for Payne Stewart.) During his considerable down time, Luke hangs out with the adorable Sarah, even after she informs him in all seriousness that she plans on one day being a horse whisperer, and fends off the nasty threats of her wanna-be boyfriend, even going so far as to take up his challenge to play a round of "cowboy poker," a game that I will not spoil the details of except to mention that it is stupid even by Texas standards.

As someone who has never quite managed to find the allure of such institutions as organized religion, professional golf or fly-fishing, I suppose that it could be argued that I am not exactly the ideal audience for a film like "Seven Days in Utopia." That may be true but I were ever to encounter anyone who would voluntarily describe themselves as part of that particular niche, I would try to sit as far away from them as possible in case that it turned out to be contagious. This is an amazingly stupid movie, one that is so staggeringly moronic that I cannot understand how anyone involved with its production could have possibly taken it seriously. The storyline, essentially a hodgepodge of "Tender Mercies," a lesser Hallmark Network joint and the kind of paint-by-numbers sports melodramas that don't get mentioned when "Sports Illustrated" does their lists of the 50 Best whatevers, is the kind of feel-good malarkey that is clearly hoping to capture some of the enormous audience for crap like "Tuesdays with Morrie" without having to replicate that saga's inherent edginess. The direction by Matt Russell is soporific even by the standards of the game that it celebrates and most of the actors look frankly embarrassed to be there. Then there are the scenes that are so unintentionally hilarious that they put most actual comedies to shame There are so many of them that I couldn't begin to list them all here but I will mention a couple. There is the scene when Johnny arrives on the golf course for the first lesson on horseback and with goats in tow. (Don't worry--it appears that the course is otherwise restricted.) There is the sequence in which Johnny shyly pulls out a fancy new putter of his own design, a club so ridiculously outré that it would have given the legendary Al Cervik pause. There is the scene in which Johnny and Luke shoot a game in the midst of a blinding rainstorm that devolves into an argument that actually concludes with Johnny announcing "Luke, I am not your father!" Finally, there is the scene in which Luke is ordered by Johnny to chisel the words that he wants to appear on his tombstone--not only is he able to chisel them out perfectly without a single lesson , he is able to do it quick enough so as to be able to run across town and arrive at church in time so that everyone can see him enter and smugly ascertain that he is truly one of them now. (The Lord really does work in mysterious yet boring ways.)

Inexplicably, the film is filled with good actors who have inexplicably been inveigled into making appearances--Melissa Leo even turns up as the owner of the diner--but none of them is more inexplicable than the presence of Robert Duvall as crusty old Johnny Crawford. This is Robert Freaking Duvall that we are talking about here. Tom Hagen, Col. Kilgore, Boo Radley, Major Frank Burns. . .the list of awe-inspiring performances could go on and on but trust me, his work as Johnny Crawford will never be featured on that list unless the rest of his vast filmography were to suddenly disappear forever and even then, it would be a coin toss. The reason that he is such a great actor is because he is such a convincing one--no matter how subtle or outsized the role may be, he usually figures out a way of approaching it so that every line and every action feels absolutely authentic. Perhaps he chose this role to see if he could pull that off despite the supreme handicap of the material he was working with but not even his considerable powers are able to keep him out of the metaphorical rough her. There is exactly one moment that feels even remotely believable and it is a brief bit part way through in which he says a prayer and delivers it with such conviction that I got the sense that I was actually watch Duvall himself praying, no doubt for the Lord to take supreme mercy and have him replaced the next day by George Hamilton.


1/2 STARS

As befitting any film in which the game of golf is used as a ham-fisted metaphor for one jerk's salvation, "Seven Days in Utopia" climaxes, you guessed it, with a big golf match that eventually boils down to a battle of wills between Luke and a wily Asian opponent who is depicted in such goofily leering terms that I was shocked to look at the end credits and discover that he wasn't played by Ken Jeong. Anyway, the resulting sequence is easily the funniest cinematic golf game to grace the big screen since the finale of "Caddyshack," or at least "Caddyshack II." At one point, one of the announcers makes the grand pronouncement that "You couldn't script it any better than this," a line sure to inspire snorts of derision from anyone still awake in the audience. Later on, another announcer breathlessly proclaims, without any irony at all, that the game we are watching truly is a "Cinderella story." It all boils down to one final shot and while there is a part of me that almost wants to spoil the ending for one and all, I am going to heroically refrain from doing so, mostly because of my belief that even if I did, you would think that I was flat-out lying to you. All I will say is that the ending is so singular that I may actually have to slip in to a screening after catching "Shark Night" just to see how paying audiences react to it. My guess is that whether they are ardent golfers or not, they will all have an urge to attack the projector with a golf club as a way of getting some petty form of revenge. As a seasoned professional with knowledge in such matters, may I suggest the one-iron?

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22590&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/02/11 00:00:00
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USA
  02-Sep-2011 (G)
  DVD: 29-Nov-2011

UK
  N/A

Australia
  02-Sep-2011
  DVD: 29-Nov-2011



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