Whatever else you might say about The Lucky One, this movie sure looks beautiful. A lovely, sun-dappled glow radiates from every frame, as if Thomas Kinkade painted the whole thing by hand, and everything and everyone that appears before the camera’s lens is pretty -- the houses, the bayous, the dogs, the leading man, the leading lady, the slightly dotty grandmother. Heck, even the bad guy is photogenic and owns a collection of handsomely restored muscle cars. It’s tempting to suggest director of photography Alar Kivilo and production designer Barbara Ling should get top billing on The Lucky One, because they clearly excel at their work -- something that can’t be said for the director, the screenwriter, or much of the cast.
The Lucky One opens in Iraq, where Logan (Zac Efron), a Marine Corps sergeant, finds a photograph of a pretty blonde woman on the ground during a patrol. The photo has a brief message of safety written on the back; Logan can’t find its owner and so he holds onto the snapshot, which becomes his good luck charm as he manages to survive three tours of duty that claim the lives of many of his buddies. Once he makes his way home, he finds it hard to emotionally reconnect with his family, so he sets out to locate the woman in the photo as a way of finding himself. Thanks to a lighthouse in the background, Logan is able to track the mystery gal to a small gulf community in Louisiana: Her name is Beth (Taylor Schilling) and she runs a dog-boarding-and-training business with her grandmother Ellie (Blythe Danner). Logan wants to thank Beth for helping to save his life, but he becomes tongue-tied when he meets her and she thinks he’s come to ask for a job. Beth starts to get wary when she discovers Logan is from Colorado and doesn’t have a place to stay, but Ellie takes a liking to him and hires him. Logan promptly strikes up a friendship with both Beth and her eight-year-old son Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart), and in time he learns that Beth’s parents died when she was young and that she had a very close relationship with her brother, who was killed while serving in Iraq. Logan realizes the photo must have belonged to her sibling, which makes him even more hesitant to tell her what brought him to her town, even as they fall in love. And as Logan and Beth’s relationship progresses, they have to deal with Keith (Jay R. Ferguson), Beth’s abusive former husband, who openly disrespects his own son and doesn’t want to see her with another man.
The Lucky One was adapted from a novel by Nicholas Sparks, who has built an impressive cottage industry out of spinning romantic cliches into gold, but even by the standards of his work this story is predictable and can’t fight the temptation to pull every possible heartstring. Director Scott Hicks and screenwriter Will Fetters seem perfectly happy to play this material as sweet and emotionally manipulative as they can, and the results follow the Sparks template so closely that you could probably wander out of the theater for a sandwich at the midway point and not miss a thing when you stroll back in for the ending. The cast is game for the most part, but they can only do so much, and Zac Efron’s earnest efforts to seem deep, soulful, and perceptive as Logan make him look like a guy who has spent too much time practicing in the mirror -- and the less said about his love scenes, the better. Taylor Schilling doesn’t fare any better as Beth and she hardly looks like a working mother with an eight-year-old, although at least the end result is less embarrassing than starring in Atlas Shrugged Part 1. And while Blythe Danner is clearly having fun playing the mildly eccentric, know-it-all Ellie, only in the movies does anyone’s feisty granny recovering from a stroke look anything like her. The Lucky One is the sort of film that is so shamelessly sentimental and unafraid of the obvious that you’ll either fall for it hook, line, and sinker, or you’ll spend most of the running time gaping in disbelief at what you’re seeing. This reviewer falls into the latter category, and even if you enjoy watching a glitzed-up version of a Harlequin romance novel come to life, audiences at least deserve a movie that tries a bit harder to offer up something fresh than this.
The Lucky One feels like its sell-by date has long passed…though boy, it sure looks pretty. leave a comment --Mark Deming