Utopia Pictures

Seven Days in Utopia

Seven Days in Utopia

1.5 out of 51.5 out of 51.5 out of 51.5 out of 5 1.5

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God bless Robert Duvall. An American cinematic institution, our greatest living actor makes the fortune-cookie bromides of Matthew Dean Russell’s Seven Days in Utopia sound like Yeats. Beginning with a tone-setting quote from Isaiah, the film follows pro-golfer Luke Chisolm (Lucas Black) on a road less travelled to the Texas hamlet of Utopia, where Duvall’s cowboy, coincidentally a retired golfer, helps the whipper snapper heal from a lifetime of psychological—and, possibly, J-horror-film-inflicted—wounds and better his game by putting him through a series of tests that include Fishing for Dummies, Painting 101, and a variation of Hillbilly Horseshoes.

This unabashed Hallmark card at times exudes an innocent stillness, regarding Utopia’s local color and the customs of its God-fearing, less-than-a-thousand populace with charming, unpretentious nonchalance. Arriving in Utopia after a televised meltdown on the pro circuit, the sorta-city-mouse Luke is bombarded with holistic displays of G-rated hospitality, from the playful sauciness of Kathy Baker’s pie-baking hotel proprietress to the chaste world-wonderment of Deborah Ann Woll’s firefly-catching, wannabe horse whisperer. Even the bullying he’s subjected to by Brian Geraghty’s loutish young cowboy is of a puppy-doggish sort, nothing that can’t be quelled by proving one’s mettle during a game of Texas hold’em…will bulls!

What dooms Seven Days in Utopia is its contrived storytelling and dim-witted artistry. Luke recalls his pro-circuit freakout as if he were suffering from the most horrific migraine of all time—and for audiences, especially montage-phobes, it may actually cause one. His nuance-free flashbacks, typically bookended by the swinging of impossibly loud-sounding golf clubs, are super-sized flashbombs of lame psychological profiling that might have seemed less awkward within the confines of a genre film. (The nature of Luke’s psychic stress is such that it recalls Sookie’s mind-reading moments from True Blood.) But the epitome of the film’s remedial show-and-tell narrative approach is a graphic match between Luke’s father walking away from him on the pro-golf course and Duvall’s Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque mentor doing the same on another, a laughably literal-minded illustration of Luke’s daddy issues.

The brutal condescension of the film’s aesthetic isn’t easily tolerated, though Seven Days in Utopia redeems itself somewhat in its final stretch, during a showdown between Luke and a sorta-villain at the Valero Texas Open. Even though the story’s use-the-force-Luke kicker is painfully telegraphed, you admire the briskly edited game and manner in which the audience isn’t force-fed the rules of golf in the process. But any goodwill the film musters is gallingly eradicated in what may be one of cinema’s most holier-than-thou cappers, a non-ending so contemptuous of its audience that you don’t doubt that the filmmakers only have the best intentions of Seven Days in Utopia‘s marketing team in mind.

105 min
Matthew Dean Russell
David Cook, Rob Levine, Matthew Dean Russell, Sandra Thrift
Lucas Black, Robert Duvall, Melissa Leo, Deborah Ann Woll, Brian Geraghty, Jerry Ferrera, Joseph Lyle Taylor, Kathy Baker