A giant slice of double chocolate cake with an ice cold glass of milk; now that's Judge Alice Nelson's idea of Utopia.
Our review of Seven Days in Utopia (Blu-ray), published June 18th, 2012, is also available.
If you're looking for a bland Sunday morning sermon, dressed up to look like a movie, than this is the film for you.
I love movies; why else would I be writing for DVD Verdict? And I also enjoy a well done film that tackles the issue of God and faith. Still I'm very particular when it comes to movies that contain Christian themes. I don't automatically recommend just any old tale where God's name is mentioned a few times, people pray over dinner and we see scenes of the townsfolk attending Sunday service. Seven Days in Utopia is a predictable and simplistic story of a young hothead and the wise and older sage who teaches him the error of his ways through fortune cookie pronouncements and menial tasks similar to the 'wax on-wax off' philosophy we saw in the old Karate Kid movies.
Facts of the Case
Luke Chisolm (Lucas Black Friday Night Lights), is an up and coming golf phenom who has a major blow up on a nationally televised tournament. After his public collapse, Luke's future in the game is in jeopardy and he escapes to a town called Utopia, Texas, where he meets former golf pro turned Zen cowboy rancher Johnny Crawford (Robert Duvall The Godfather). Johnny had his own demons in the past and promises to help Luke with his game if he stays in Utopia for seven days. Through this mentorship, Johnny helps Luke find the conviction he's been lacking, not only in his game but also in his life.
Seven Days in Utopia is the movie equivalent of a religious tract; you've seen these pamphlets being handed out while you're at the mall or the grocery store, they're meant to spread the 'good news' but are more of an annoyance than anything else. At times, the approach is heavy handed, as in the scene when they see people getting out of church and Johnny proclaims, out of the blue and without prompting, that he had attended the morning service, just in case Luke was wondering. I don't think he was and neither was I. Then it clumsily tiptoes around the religious angle, taking a more seeker friendly approach than a firm stand. This is evident with Duvall spewing wisdom to Luke like the cowboy version of Mr. Miyagi. Lesson 1: Find your conviction Luke-son and you will find your game. Lesson 2: Fly fishing is like golf; be the pole and the fish will come. Lesson 3: Paint a picture Luke-son and envision how you will make the golf shot. Pat Morita did it better.
Melissa Leo (The Fighter) is as bland as I've ever seen her, playing a widow named Lily whose late husband was close friends with cowboy Johnny. Her role is forgettable, her talents wasted. She is the unmemorable mother of Sarah (Deborah Ann Woll, True Blood), a strong willed girl who takes an immediate shine to Luke but is pursued by Jake (Brian Geraghty, The Hurt Locker), the stereotypical bumpkin. The whole love triangle is one giant cliché in a film full of them, with characters that are cardboard cutouts of some genius' idea of what small town religious 'folk' are like. I admire both Leo and Duvall—they are immense talents—but here their acting feels tiny and insignificant.
Lost in all this is Lucas Black, a kid I've enjoyed since the short-lived 1995 series American Gothic. Lucas isn't a trained actor like many of his fellow cast members but he has the presence and natural skill that make him interesting to watch. For me he could just sit on the porch and wax philosophic about almost anything with that good ol' boy southern drawl, but even he couldn't save this movie.
And really it's too bad because if there's one thing the movie industry needs it's more family oriented films with a coherent message of faith. But Christian films get no free pass from me, simply because they talk of God. I think well made Christian films can be on par with any mainstream Hollywood movie but they have to meet the same criteria. They have to be well written, with first-rate acting and a story that is engaging; unfortunately this film didn't produce enough of those qualities.
Seven Days in Utopia is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen and the audio is in Dolby Digital Stereo 5.1. Extras include 3 short featurettes, one that reveals that Lucas Black actually has some golf tournament experience. I admire what Seven Days in Utopia tries to be but much of what is displayed on screen is cavity inducing, not inspirational.
I can imagine making a God-themed movie is a tough job; there's a narrow line a filmmaker has to walk so that he doesn't alienate those that may not believe while holding fast to the truth of those that do. Although Seven Days in Utopia had good intentions, it fell flat. Fireproof, another Christian film, may not have had Academy Award winning performances but it is a better overall film; more genuine and sincere than Seven Days in Utopia could ever hope to be. This film will appeal to those that already believe the precepts of Christianity, but those who have been burned by religiosity may be left cold by this infomercial disguised as a major motion picture.
Please forgive me, but my ruling is Guilty.
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