Monday, January 2, 2012

Movie Review: “Seven Days In Utopia” ☺☺☺

Despite the fact that I’m always up for a good golf movie, I had mixed feelings as I sat down to watch Seven Days in Utopia. I had gotten an invitation to a pre-release screening of the film (It didn’t work out; I stood in line for an hour but the theatre filled up before I got in), and I have admired the work of the two principal actors, Robert Duvall and Lucas Black, for years, but my reservations stemmed from having learned that the book on which the movie was based, Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia, was yet another rah-rah self-help mental-game-of-golf book, and one which had quite a healthy dose of self-promoting fundamentalist-Christian proselytizing thrown in. I will admit that, based on that knowledge, and because of my skepticism in regards to the whole business (and it is a business – a huge business…) of mental coaching for better golf, I was prepared to dislike the movie before I even sat down.

I had a suspicion that my worst fears were going to be realized when the movie opened with a Bible quote. From that opening, a quick segue into the Lucas Chisolm (Lucas Black) character’s meltdown on the last hole of a qualifying tournament for the Texas Open PGA Tour golf tournament was followed by a contrived plot mechanism that resulted in his being stranded for a week in the small town of Utopia, Texas, and his delivery into the hands of Johnny Crawford (Robert Duvall), a former PGA Tour player who runs a golf course and driving range.

Most of the middle of the movie is taken up with young Lucas Chisolm’s tutelage in golf by Johnny Crawford, who uses quaintly unorthodox means to develop Lucas’ mental game, exhorting him to “See It (the shot), Feel It, Trust It”. This portion of the film is actually sweet and kind of “aw-shucks” down-homeish; and not too heavy-handed on the “higher power golf guidance” stuff, and I did rather enjoy the middle part of the film (my enjoyment was helped along by the handsome Texas Hill Country scenery). There is the obligatory small-town romance sub-plot thrown in, as well as a number of flashbacks which fill in the back story on Lucas Chisolm’s tournament meltdown and his years of near-abusive training in the game of golf at the hands of his obsessive father (whose poor advice while caddying for Lucas led to the disastrous final hole in the recent tournament). We also learn a bit of Johnny Crawford’s history, and how (and why) he left the PGA Tour and landed in a podunk backwater in the Texas Hill Country.

The movie starts to break down a bit from there, with a strong hit of Christian fundamentalist “seek guidance from a higher power” dogma climbing out of the subtext and coming to the fore, and the final portion of the film, in which young Lucas battles down to the wire with fictional powerhouse pro golfer T. K. Oh (played by real-life PGA Tour pro K.J Choi) at the Valero Texas Open PGA tournament borders on the laughable. Much is made in the rather scanty special features on the DVD of the “authenticity” of the pro golf action in the film, as well as the participation of a number of actual PGA Tour pros—including Stewart Cink, Rich Beem, and Rickie Fowler—when all these guys do is make a few golf swings in some scene-setting shots that establish the fact that yes, we are watching a PGA Tour event. As the competition comes down to an eventual playoff between Lucas Chisolm and “T.K. Oh”, the two players exchange meaningful glances which are more suggestive of a “your-place-or-mine” exchange than subtle “respect between competitors” eye contact.

There are some quite inexcusable technical glitches in the golf tournament sequences. When “T.K. Oh” must make a million-to-1 chip-in from a downhill lie, in thick rough, from above the hole, to a fast, down-sloping green, the ball hits the green and rebounds backwards like a child’s rubber bouncy ball, checking its momentum and allowing it to roll down toward the hole in a manner that gives it a legitimate chance of dropping into the hole. It is totally unrealistic behavior for a golf ball; indeed, from that lie, to that green, it is extremely unlikely that even a PGA Tour player could have imparted enough spin to the ball to have it back up even a little bit—it is obviously a CG shot that had the ball added by computer manipulation. Moments later, as T.K is shown putting from below the hole (after the miraculous spinning ball shot didn’t go in, but luckily also did not roll all the way off the green to the water), the hole is seen to have the usual white-painted inner rim that is common in Tour events, but the subsequent close-up shot of the ball approaching the hole shows a hole with an unpainted rim – a rather sloppy continuity error.

Probably the worst golf-related technical error in the film is the “putting secret” that Johnny Crawford shows Lucas Chisolm, and which Chisolm uses in the final seconds of the film. It involves the use of a long-handled putter, but utilized croquet-style, from a position astride the line of the putt, facing the hole. This is an illegal stroke, as defined by Rule 16-1e, which states:
e. Standing Astride or on Line of Putt
The player must not make a stroke on the putting green from a stance
astride, or with either foot touching, the line of putt or an extension of that
line behind the ball.

When Crawford teaches Chisolm this trick, he tells him that he will “know when to use it.” Chisolm uses a conventional putter throughout early portion of the tournament, only turning to the broom handle at a crucial, concluding moment. Makes me wonder what club he took out of his bag in order to accommodate the extra putter, and why the Golf Channel talking heads weren’t all over the odd equipment choice during the telecast…

Another distraction in the golf sequences is the blatant and egregious product placement for Callaway golf products. Balls, caps, bags, clubs—nearly everything in the film that is golf-equipment related is a Callaway product. In the Valero Open segment, which features real-life Golf Channel personalities Kelly Tilghman and Brandel Chamblee covering the tournament, Brandel goes so far as to comment on how well Lucas Chisolm has been driving the ball with his new Callaway Octane driver—an obvious product plug that would never be allowed on the air in a sports telecast.

Another, more subtle, Callaway plug is a kind of reverse plug—in the close-up of the T.K. Oh putt that doesn’t fall, the logo on his ball is very clearly visible as it rolls to a stop at the edge of the hole—and the ball is seen to be a Titleist. Now, in real life K.J. Choi is a “Titleist Brand Ambassador”, and perhaps the folks at Acushnet would have balked at him being shown using a competitor’s ball, even in a fictitious context, but the character he portrays could have been shown to be using a fictitious ball. The fact that his missed putt is clearly shown to have been made not only with a competitor’s ball, but with a ball manufactured by a competitor with whom the Callaway Company has wrangled in court over ball-technology patents (and lost…) is telling, and an obvious dig at Titleist.

All things considered, Seven Days in Utopia is only fair as a golf film. The story is, for the most part, clumsy and ill-constructed; it features blatant product placement for Callaway Golf (but don’t think that I have a grudge against Callaway—I play a Callaway Big Bertha Titanium 454 driver and a Big Bertha 3-wood that I am very happy with), and it is, as a whole, rather heavy on the mental-game hoo-ha that I find tiresome. The film’s saving graces, in my estimation (and the reason it got three stars instead of just two) are the middle portion, which is, as I mentioned above, rather sweet and down-homeish, which I liked; the Texas scenery, and the overall fine performances turned in by most of the actors involved.

**********  SPOILER ALERT  **********

The following portion of my review contains a spoiler concerning the ending of the film. If you have not yet seen the film being reviewed, and do not wish to learn a vital fact about the end of the story which could spoil your enjoyment of the movie, read no further!

Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

The final moment of the film is a blatantly self-promoting gimmick for author David Cook’s products related to this movie and the book on which it is based—a thinly-disguised fundamentalist Christian tract masquerading as a book of golf mental-game self-help tips.

You aren’t shown whether or not Lucas Chisolm’s final, potentially tournament-winning putt (made croquet-style, and thus illegal anyway…) drops. The screen fades to black, and you are exhorted to visit the website to find out whether or not he made the putt. The website turns out to be a proselytizing site for David Cook’s fundamentalist-Christian life-guidance teachings, as well as a merchandising site for products associated with the film where you are invited to buy balls, bags, etc. (all Callaway, of course…) with the film’s “SFT” (See It, Feel It, Trust It) logo, and multiple copies of the DVD to give to your friends in order to pass along the message, just as the book encourages the reader to buy and pass along ten copies. And they never do tell you if Lucas made the putt…


No comments:

Post a Comment