Lucas Black, left, and Robert Duvall in "Seven Days in Utopia." (Van Redin / Visio Entertainment )
The title "Seven Days in Utopia" might suggest a flight of metaphoric whimsy or irony, but it's as literal and earnest as everything in this inspirational drama: It refers to a week the protagonist spends in the small town of Utopia, Texas. Played by Lucas Black, he's a young golfer fresh off a humiliating pro-circuit debut, and he receives life-changing mentoring from a soulful old rancher — Robert Duvall, as a milder version of the many country-wise characters he's brought to life over the decades.
With Golf Channel commentators and players such as K.J. Choi participating, the film bears an official stamp of approval. Based on David L. Cook's book "Golf's Sacred Journey," it plays as a "Zen and the Art of the Links" with a Bible Belt persuasion.
When Luke Chisholm (Black) crashes his car into a fence owned by Johnny Crawford (Duvall), providence has delivered him into the hands of a former pro with a higher calling. It takes a while before the film makes explicit its faith-based slant, but the wholesomeness of Utopia is never in doubt.
From Johnny's surrogate father figure to the sturdy widow who runs the diner (Melissa Leo), the prevailing mood is the gentle feistiness of hardworking people. With their white clapboard church, town socials, fireworks and fireflies, everyone is so grounded they might sprout leaves — but instead they spout homilies, not least the lovely horse whisperer (Deborah Ann Woll) Luke falls for.
The road to golf/life enlightenment leads to churchgoing orthodoxy, but it's paved with Johnny's unconventional teaching repertoire, which includes fishing, landscape painting and light-plane flying. There are no real bumps in that road, and though the drama has its heartfelt moments, it unrolls as flat as the Texas terrain, cast in an idyllic summer glow.
First-time director Matthew Dean Russell underscores every simplistic note of the material, with the actors lending whatever depth can be found. Even without tension or enlivening contradictions, Duvall is terrifically watchable. Black, who worked well with him in last year's "Get Low," suggests dark edges that the film quickly smooths, just as it treats all conflicts that arise.
'Seven Days in Utopia'
MPAA rating: G
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Playing: In limited release