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Movie Review

Seven Days in Utopia

Linking God and golf leads nowhere

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By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / September 2, 2011

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If I understand “Seven Days in Utopia,’’ some guys spend their entire day thinking about golf, and God thinks those guys are crazy. They should be thinking about Him. So when the rageaholic professional golfer Luke Chisolm (Lucas Black) receives golf tips from an old codger (Robert Duvall), we’re not to be fooled: These are really the Lord’s life lessons. But any movie that instructs us, as this one does, to visit a website to find out how its final scene ends is the opposite of Lordly.

The website isn’t scheduled to go live until the movie opens, which means it couldn’t be viewed in time for this review. But I don’t need to see it to know it’s a nutty development. Some movies are unfinished and don’t know they are. The inconclusiveness is premeditated. You buy a ticket for a movie; it turns into a recruitment tool. But for what? Page views? Congregants? Someone to share life’s back nine with? The movie is terrible partly because it’s badly written, directed, and conceived and partly because it lacks the necessarily thematic coherence to accomplish proselytism of any kind. It’s handing out leaflets that don’t say anything. By the time this is all over, it’s unclear whether Luke even knows what it’s all about, and that’s excusing the fact that he also has no idea how his last scene ends.

After one meltdown at a tournament, then another after he crashes his car, he winds up stranded in a little place called Utopia, Texas. The codger turns out to be a former pro named Johnny Crawford, and Johnny knows all. (His initials are the same as a certain religious superstar.) Luke, as the gospel singers in “The Color Purple’’ might say: God is trying to tell you something.

Luke has made the mistake of letting his abusive stage-mother of a father (Joseph Lyle Taylor) be his caddie. The parental pressure snaps him. In Utopia, Luke gets acquainted with a more loving father - two, in fact. He soaks in a warm bath of kindness from the likes of Melissa Leo, Kathy Baker, and Deborah Ann Woll, who’s what Shelly Duvall might have looked like had the genetic cubists left her alone. Woll plays a waitress who lives to “bring freedom to horses and’’ - ahem - “the occasional stranger.’’ The jealous ranch hand (Brian Geraghty) who’s been bullying Luke for most of his stay becomes so charmed that, as Luke departs, the ranch hand tosses him his cowboy hat. You can sense Luke fighting the urge to say, “Aww, I wish I knew how to quit you, too.’’ Lucas Black’s drawl and scrappiness actually are that charming. But every performance here serves a lower power.

Johnny tells Luke that God has a plan and instructs him to write down all the lies he’s been told, put the note in a box, and bury the box. The lies are things like: Your golf score is not a reflection of your true self. How are we to square that with the climactic tournament that comes down to Luke versus K.J. Choi playing a champion golfer named T.K. Oh?

It took four screenwriters, including the film’s director, Matthew Dean Russell, to turn David L. Cook’s book “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia’’ into a pamphlet for faith, a commercial for the Golf Channel, and a melodrama about a boy and, for these purposes, his mean old “daddie.’’ At the end of his week, Luke is a better, more unorthodox putter, a calmer athlete, and perhaps a greater nondenominational Christian. At the end of this movie, we’re crassly given a Web address for a link that has nothing to do with God or golf. T.K. Oh, indeed.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com or followed on Twitter: @wesley_morris.

SEVEN DAYS IN UTOPIA

Directed by: Matthew Dean Russell

Written by: Russell, Rob Levine, Sandra Thrift, and David L. Cook, adapted from Cook’s book “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia’’

Starring: Lucas Black, Melissa Leo, Kathy Baker, Deborah Ann Woll, Brian Geraghty, and Robert Duvall

At: AMC Methuen, AMC Liberty Tree, and AMC Framingham

Running time: 98 minutes

Rated: G (but, really, why subject a child to this?)

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