If there’s anything positive to be said about movies adapted from Nicholas Sparks novels it’s this, they certainly excel at one or more of the following: showcasing the tragically overlooked “quirkily wise beyond their years” child demographic; pounding home the point that if you haven’t partaken in a row boat ride with your sweetie, it’s simply not true love; and rivalling Nora Ephron movies in the category of seriously awesome house porn.
Other than that, past adaptations like Dear John, Nights in Rodanthe, The Last Song and now, the new three-hanky addition The Lucky One, offer little else to those looking for a quality adult romance (or for that matter, anyone just looking for a semi-satisfying time at the movies).
Zac Efron takes another step towards freeing himself of the dreaded High School Musical shackles by playing the stoic Marine Sgt. Logan Thibault who gets caught in the middle of a night time ambush during his third tour in Iraq. In the daylight, he spies something left in the rubble and when he goes to investigate, a grenade hits the very spot where he’d been standing, killing much of his platoon. The mystery object turns out to be a photo of a blonde beauty sitting in front of a lighthouse, with the message “Be Safe” written on the back. As Logan continues to survive near misses that kill those around him, he begins to believe the photo – and the girl in the photo – is his good luck talisman, keeping him alive against all odds.
When he comes back home to Colorado as the sole survivor of his platoon, Logan decides the answer to dealing with his battlefield trauma is to track down the photo girl and thank her. Of course, he decides to do this in the manliest way he knows how: with his faithful German Shepherd by his side — on foot. To Louisiana. Apparently real men don’t take buses.
Miraculously (because he’s the lucky one, you see), Logan tracks down the lighthouse, the town and eventually the girl, who’s a beautiful, sad single mom named Beth (Taylor Schilling). Beth lives in a big, old rambling farmhouse with her young son Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart) and her footloose grandmother Ellie (Blythe Danner) and together they’ve turned the lush surrounding grounds into a dog kennel paradise. As luck (!) would have it, they also have a handyman position just waiting to be filled by a rugged, Zac Efron-shaped gentleman.
You can pretty much guess what happens from there: Logan and Beth dance around one another for a while (that mostly consists of lots of blank-eyed stares and conversations filled with platitudes like “did you ever wonder why you’re here?”) before giving into their affections even despite the presence of Beth’s mean meathead ex-husband who’s determined to keep them apart. Gee, I wonder if love will conquer all?
The Lucky One isn’t a bad movie per se, it’s just kinda boring. This is a film that’s in desperate need of any sort of genuine conflict. Sure Logan struggles with finding the words to tell Beth about the photo and Beth has a tragedy of her own that she’s dealing with but even those issues seem contrived to extend the film beyond what would otherwise be a 30-minute movie made up almost entirely of “we’re falling in love in the sun-dappled South” montages. The Lucky One is designed to be looked at admiringly rather than fully engaged with. It’s all dewy glow and emotional vagueness, offering only mindless clichés as answers to the characters’ big questions about love, destiny and the great beyond.
But what does one really expect from a film spawned from the Nicholas Sparks assembly line? Director Scott Hicks (Shine) and screenwriter Will Fetters (Remember Me) are certainly persistent in their attempts to make The Lucky One‘s manufactured-for-maximum-tears scenarios seem vaguely credible. It’s just too bad that, given the source material, the odds were against them right from the start.