If golf is a metaphor for life (aren't we all faced with the decision whether to use a driver or a 9-iron, like every day?), then Seven Days in Utopia is the ultimate golf-as-metaphor movie.
Or maybe that's Caddyshack.
Sunny and syrupy, like a pancake breakfast in some heavenly diner, Seven Days in Utopia stars Lucas Black as a pro golfer who has gone desperately over par. Luke Chisholm has just experienced the 18-hole humiliation of his life when he crashes into little Utopia, Texas, a town where all 373 residents know one another by name, and know what everyone had for lunch.
And darn if Luke doesn't run into Johnny Crawford (Robert Duvall), a Lone Star cowpoke who just happens to be a former PGA champ, and who happens to make Luke a promise, and a proposition: "Spend seven days in Utopia, you'll find your game." (Black and Duvall shared the screen, too, in last year's somewhat less hokey Get Low.)
Yes, Duvall's Johnny is a golf Master: "To stay in balance you have to control your emotions," he counsels Luke, teaching him how to play golf by having him paint, and fish, and fly a plane. Johnny writes "SFT" on Luke's golf balls, urging him to "see it, feel it, trust it." Even Yoda in a golf cart couldn't deliver such kernels.
Until Seven Days in Utopia sucker punches you with a surfeit of faith-based platitudes, its upbeat brand of golf mysticism isn't altogether unappealing. Duvall brings crusty humor to his role, the Texas high country looks mighty inviting, and when was the last time you saw Melissa Leo in pigtails? (In a complete 180 from her potty-mouthed matriarch in The Fighter, Leo's character runs Utopia's diner and serves up a mean cherry pie. Her redheaded daughter, played by Deborah Ann Woll, invites the stranger to the square dance.)
Seven Days in Utopia, adapted from David Cook's novel, Golf's Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia, is, in fact, aimed at Christian audiences. The soundtrack boasts down-home uplift like Third Day's "Born Again," and on Sundays everybody files into the church to hear the preacher preach.
Chances are the movie will cross over a bit, too, thanks to the presence of Duvall and to the subject at hand. PGA Tour winner K.J. Choi is one of several real-life pros to pop up in the film, and even if this isn't Tin Cup (although Black suggests a younger Kevin Costner) or The Legend of Bagger Vance, obsessive golfers need something to do when they're not on the fairway, right?
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/