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Seven Days in Utopia (2011) -vs- Tin Cup (1996)

Seven Days in Utopia -vs- Tin Cup

Bryce Zabel, Editor-in-ChiefThe Smackdown

Both of these films about Texas golfers make the case that the only way to fix your golf game is to focus on your life and let the game take care of itself. There’s probably some merit in that, although having just played a round of very bad golf in Scotland recently, I think talent should not be overlooked.

The best real-life example of someone whose life fell apart followed by his game is Tiger Woods. So this Smackdown is for you, Tiger. While more than a few of our readers probably stand in awe of not just your earlier success but also the way you played such a complicated extra-marital game at the same time, we want to help get you back on track.

Our competitors for your attention as well as sporting and sexual healing are the new faith film Seven Days in Utopia and the classic Kevin Costner starring-vehicle, Tin Cup. While the lead characters in these films had their spectacular meltdowns on the links and yours was in bedrooms across America, there are still some lessons to be learned, so pay attention, Tiger. Maybe we can fix this thing in time for the U.S. Open.

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The Challenger

Luke Chisholm (Lucas Black) chokes in a golf tournament that is supposed to be his ticket to the pro tour. It’s an epic choke, played out on camera, and then repeated endlessly — the kind that gets passed around on YouTube the next day. He can’t go home because Dad is his caddy and Dad’s part of the problem, so he drives out into the Texas countryside to lose himself.

A cow without the sense to get out of the road forces Luke into a crash that eventually brings him to the town of Utopia, where an old codger named Johnny Crawford (Robert Duvall) takes him under his wing. As coincidence would have it, Johnny’s a golfer too, and he decides to lay some of his home-spun wisdom on Luke. His whole performance has a Pat Morita “wax-on, wax-off” quality to it.

It’s not clear whether this is a tale of finding God through golf or finding golf through God, but it’s clearly aimed at that part of America that believes not just in God but in a God who cares about sporting events and their outcomes.

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The Defending Champion

Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy (Kevin Costner) is a golf pro at a driving range in Salome, Texas but that is not a good thing. The range has no customers, and Tin Cup hasn’t used the talent God gave him to play golf since he was a champion at the University of Houston. He hangs out with his friend Romeo, played by Cheech Marin who, frankly, always makes me smile.

One day Tin Cup gets a customer, a psychologist, Dr. Molly Griswold (Rene Russo) who wants to take lessons because her boyfriend is on the pro tour. And, as coincidence would have it here, that guy is someone Tin Cup knows — his rival, David Simms (Don Johnson).

This, of course, sets up a love triangle where Molly can help Tin Cup fix his golf game even though what he really wants is her love. Naturally, he and Simms are going to end up in the U.S. Open in one huge grudge match.

The Scorecard

Seven Days in Utopia is being pitched and marketed on one level as a golf movie. It’s really not. It’s a golf movie that feels like it should be on the Hallmark Channel. It wears its faith on its sleeve and unless you are really, really looking for that, then you will feel uncomfortable watching it. You don’t necessarily have to be a Christian golf-nut from Texas to like this movie, but two out of three would probably help a lot. Subtle it is not.

If Seven Days in Utopia is a faith movie, then Tin Cup is a faithless movie. The last thing it wants to do is preach to you about a higher power than yourself. It crackles with authenticity, serving up characters who speak like real people and sub-plots that add to the whole.

The two golfers starring in these films bring different styles. Tin Cup is recognized for his reckless, risk-taking approach to the game, where Luke is known for his conservative play. In that regard, I guess golf can be a metaphor for life. My own style, for example, consists of losing a lot of balls, not keeping an accurate score and swearing.

Each golfer has someone unexpectedly walk into his life. For Luke, it’s Johnny Crawford and for Tin Cup, Molly Griswold. Nothing against the great Robert Duvall, but his codger act is getting so familiar he generates a warm glow on arrival. Rene Russo, on the other hand, walks into her film and generates heat.

On the predictability scale, this is no contest either. There are zero surprises in Seven Days in Utopia. It is exactly as you’d expect and every time I thought there was a chance to go in a different direction it stayed very comfortably on the standard cart path. Tin Cup is another story. Written and directed by Ron Shelton, it sometimes veers off into the rough, bangs into a few trees, then emerges with its own unique perspective and is all the better for it.

Both films, naturally, come down to big tournament set-pieces. Seven Days in Utopia‘s is rote. It’s nicely shot, but it isn’t at all compelling. In contrast, Tin Cup saves its best moment for an ending that is all about character and shows that the lessons being learned are not necessarily the ones you thought were being taught.

The Decision

It’s pretty simple. Unless you are part of a narrow audience that is starved for faith-based films no matter how unoriginal, there is not a lot for you in Seven Days in Utopia. And yet I am sure that a lot of people will go see it in its limited release and quite a few of them will comment that it’s about time they started making movies like this.

God help us if they do. I like films that explore this big issue of God and spirituality, but not by being so on-the-nose, preachy and banal. Even if God does care about the outcome of sporting events like college football games, I think He would be bored by the outcome of this movie.

I’ll tell you what would’ve been a wild film. If Duvall’s Johnny Crawford had tried to palm off his Karate Kid-style advice on Costner’s Tin Cup. There would have been some sparks in that.

The people who finance faith movies should still make them smart and surprising and good. They shouldn’t be rewarded for making them like Seven Days in Utopia.

For me, Tin Cup is not just great golf; it’s a great film and obviously wins here. And if you’re paying attention, Tiger, don’t look for God to fix your game. Follow the advice from your former sponsor Nike — Just Do It — yourself.

About Bryce Zabel 196 Articles
Drawing inspiration from career experiences as a CNN correspondent, TV Academy chairman, creator of five produced primetime network TV series, and fast-food frycook, Bryce is the Editor-in-Chief of "Movie Smackdown." While he freely admits to having written the screenplay for the reviewer-savaged "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation," he hopes the fact that he also won the Writers Guild award a couple of years ago will cause you to cut him some slack. That, plus the fact that he has a new StudioCanal produced feature film, “The Last Battle,” shooting this summer in Europe about the end of World War II. He's also a member of the Directors Guild, Screen Actors Guild, and a past enthusiast of the Merry Marvel Marching Society. His new what-if book series, “Breakpoint,” just won the prestigious Sidewise Award for Alternate History, and has so far tackled JFK not being assassinated and The Beatles staying together.
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3 Comments on Seven Days in Utopia (2011) -vs- Tin Cup (1996)

  1. I wish I had seen this before I saw Seven Days. It’s even worse than you say here.

  2. Thanks for the warning regarding SEVEN DAYS IN UTOPIA; this is precisely the kind of movie that would drive me crazy. Yep, money saved… I will say that referring to a “Texas Christian golfer” confused me for a second or two — at first I thought you were taking about a member of TCU’s golf team. Then again, a film about a Horned Frog who can’t make par would probably make for a more interesting movie.

  3. Bryce,

    I haven’t seen Seven Days in Utopia… and I’m not sure I will. Especially since I like Tin Cup so much. Wonderfully written, well-acted top to bottom. In the midst of all those great character roles, I thought Linda Hart was just about perfect.

    During my reporting days.. I’d run across golfer Peter Jacobsen in Portland… and we’d joke that it was an outrage he was overlooked at Oscar time!

    Another smart and funny ‘Smack.

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