The Lucky One, directed by Australian director Scott Hicks (Shine, Snow Falling On Cedars and No Reservations) is the adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks novel of the same name. It is the seventh of Sparks’ novels to be adapted to screen, with other titles including A Walk to Remember, The Notebook and Dear John. While his novels have proven to be popular, the reception to the films has been less than positive. The Lucky One, lacking in dramatic weight and convincing characters is poorly scripted, dully sentimental and predictable, fueled by a premise that goes nowhere and stuffed with endless genre clichés. It opens in Australian cinemas on April 19.
Zac Efron stars as Logan Thibault, a U.S Marine Sergeant who returns home to North Carolina following his third tour of duty in Iraq. He credits his survival solely to a photograph of an unknown woman, likely a girlfriend or relative of one of his fellow platoon members. Having bent down to pick up the photograph and examine it, he miraculously avoided being caught in a fatal explosion. Living with his sister, and following an unsuccessful reintegration into civilized life, he sets out on his own to find his guardian angel and to tell her his story.
Logan learns that she runs a family-owned local kennel and that her name is Beth (Taylor Schilling). Unable to find the words to tell her his story, she mistakes his arrival and interest as being for an advertised job opening. When he reveals that he is a marine, he is met by her distrust, but her Nana (a one-note Blythe Danner), sensing he would be useful, hires him. Beth has a son, Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart), who warms to Logan (they play chess together, and Logan, who has a hidden musical talent, is instrumental in helping Ben find find confidence), and a brutish husband, Keith (Jay R. Ferguson), who she is separated from.Keith is a local police officer and doesn’t take kindly to Logan’s arrival, seeing him as an obstacle between him winning back his wife. He pops up throughout the film to cause conflict and confusion, once the inevitable attraction between Logan and Beth commences. It is all very pleasant for the pair for a while, until Logan’s true reason for being in town is revealed and Beth faces a harrowing truth.
The film feels terribly laborious because there really isn’t a driving force in the story. Nothing really happens, except that two people, who we know become intimate from the trailer and promo material, fall in love, and face the consequences of Keith’s stubbornness and macho tactics, his threats to earn sole custody of Ben and his convenient unflinching hatred for Logan. Films like this are so predictable, and though this will draw an audience – this one is purely for romantic nuts, fans of Zac Efron, Nicholas Sparks’ novels and the films previously adapted from his novels – it is impossible to recommend.
Scenes are short, there are a stream of corny montages to convey Logan’s assimilation into the job, and the blossoming romance between Logan and Beth, but at the same time the film drags badly. There is no reason why this film had to be this long. It doesn’t make sense. It felt to me like several daytime soap episodes edited together. Very little about the story was cinematic – except maybe the involvement of a big star in Efron - because the direction and tech work, and certainly the writing, was very poor. Just when you think the film can’t get cheesier, another montage accompanied by a soft rock song pops up, another obvious cliché appears and the characters deliver another awful line of dialogue.
The most original part of the tale is the impact of the photograph on Logan’s life, but this set up is reduced to a pair of quick sequences in the beginning – one that is too short to properly establish the moment as significant, and one that ultimately serves no purpose and makes the premise less believable. If more time were spent addressing Logan’s debt to this photograph, instead of giving Keith so much screen time, forcing ways to have Taylor Schilling end up dripping wet or simply having the characters stare at one another, it would have been a much better film.
We don’t feel like we relate to Logan, or get the sense that his war experiences are still haunting him. He starts to be rejuvenated as a human being – fixing things around the kennel and walking the dogs, fixing up his own place, and hanging out with Beth and Ben - and that’s fine, but it isn’t exactly interesting. This stagnant drama meanders badly, and when the tension hits its peak in the third act (the story, which has been forgotten about for an hour, comes back into play), it is all undone by a preposterous climax. The Lucky One adds nothing new to the genre. It is completely forgettable.
Efron is solid, but comes across as being worse than he is because the material is so bad. With the exception of a few laughs at the film’s cheesiness, this rarely musters a genuine laugh, or draws any emotion. The chemistry between the leads is quite apparent and this is one of the film's few positives, but it has one of the most generic, one-dimensional villains I have seen in quite some time. Ultimately, you’re down on your luck if you find yourself dragged to The Lucky One.
My Rating: ★ (D-)