Lucky One, TheReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 04/19/12 22:12:46
A couple of months ago, I was writing up my review of the melodramatic gumdrop known as "The Vow" and found myself in the faintly ridiculous position of offering a public apology to none other than best-selling hack author Nicholas Sparks, the creator of such shameless soapers as "The Notebook," "Message in a Bottle," "A Walk to Remember," "The Last Song" and others. You see, the concept of the film--a beautiful young woman loses her recent memories in a car accident and her hunky young husband struggles to get her to fall in love with him all over before she goes back to her former life of privilege and her jag ex-fiancee--seemed silly and melodramatic that I naturally assumed that it was one of his creations and it was only when the end credits began rolling did I realize that I was mistaken and he had nothing at all to do with it. Even though I didn't necessarily have to, I felt that I needed to make some kind of amends in print for linking him, however briefly, with such absolute tripe, if only from a karmic standpoint. Now I would like to take this time to rescind that apology because the latest screen incarnation of one Sparks' works, "The Lucky One," has arrived and it is actually sillier and more unbelievable than "The Vow," if such a thing is even conceivable. In fact, this one is so ridiculous that the whole thing could have come across as a merciless spoof of Sparks' entire oeuvre if only the filmmakers had dialed things up or down a notch or two.Our hero this time around is Logan Thibault (Zac Efron), a soldier who, as the story begins, is in the middle of his third tour of duty in Iraq. On the morning after an attack gone wrong, he finds a photograph of a beautiful woman half-buried in the dirt and impulsively goes over to pick it up. Seconds later, an errant missile strikes exactly where he was standing and he comes away from the attack unscathed. Logan begins carrying the photo around and experiences a string of good luck that consists mostly of winning at cards and not getting blown up. Luckily for him, he has a best pal who sizes up the situation and helpfully concludes "Looks like it saved you. You have a guardian angel." (Unluckily for the best pal, we soon discover the radius of luck does not apparently extend to exposition-supply ancillary characters.) Before long, Logan returns home to stay with his sister and her family in Colorado but he starts channelling Bruce Dern in "Coming Home" whenever the kids crank up the video games (which is better than channeling Bruce Dern in "Tattoo," I suppose, and yes, the fact that I am already dropping irrelevant references to long-forgotten Bruce Dern movies suggests a certain boredom with the topic at hand) in an effort to show us that War Has Changed Him. Still carrying that photo along, he becomes obsessed with figuring out who she is and telling her about their strange connection. After tracking her to a small town in Louisiana, Logan, along with his faithful dog, sets off on an existential hike of the soul by heading out there on foot to confess all. Once he arrives in town, he discovers her to be local flower Elizabeth (Taylor Schilling) and heads over to the picturesque pet motel she runs but when he arrives, dog still in tow, he totally chokes and instead of saying his piece and ending things early, he applies for a job instead. (I have to admit that I kind of found myself wondering what his end game would have been if either he didn't have the dog with him or if she worked at the local Walmart but again, I fear I digress.)
Despite being the most adorably apple-cheeked war veteran haunted by the horrors that he has seen in recent screen memory, Elizabeth is understandably reluctant to hire some stranger with no references who appears to have traveled thousands of miles to appear at her door. Of course, one can forgive her for being suspicious because she has a load of ham-fisted soap opera cliches to care for, including a mother (Blythe Danner) who is the sprightliest stroke victim that one could hope for (the one who has absolutely no residual afflictions that could possibly bring things down), an adorable but quirky young son (Riley Thomas Stewart) with a fear of playing his violin in front of other people and a rambling old house consisting of a kitchen, a dining room, a spacious bedroom and countless rooms filled with bitter and painful memories of a loved one who was killed in Iraq and whose absence means that she will never love again. At first, Logan assumes that the dead guy was Elizabeth's husband and the father of her plot development but--TWIST--it turns out that the dead guy was actually her beloved brother. Considering the way that she pines for him, one might suspect that there was some strange "Game of Thrones"-like action going on between them but no, she just really liked him a lot. You would think that this might be the ideal time for Logan to admit to the real reason as to why he came--after all, it isn't like he killed the guy and it might help bring her some kind of closure--but once again, he punks out.
With her unaware of the strange connection between her and Logan and him still unwilling to tell her about said connection and the absence of a potentially huge hurdle, these two damaged-but-attractive souls begin to heal each other--sometimes even in the afternoon--and for a while, everything seems peachy; their love blossoms, the kid gets over his fear of audiences and dear old mom gets to make her loving-but-knowing observations from the sidelines. The only cloud on the horizon is the doughy one personified by Keith (Jay R. Ferguson), Elizabeth's loutish ex-husband and the town's most incompetent cop. Alas, as the soused scion of the town's most powerful family--you can tell because they are the ones throwing garden parties that are fraught with portent as well as crinoline--he has decided that if he cannot have Elizabeth, no one else can; even though he doesn't really seem to like his kid that much, he nevertheless reminds everyone that "I can take that boy anytime I want!"
Will Logan sacrifice his happiness by leaving Elizabeth so that she doesn't lose her son? Will Elizabeth discover the truth about why Logan came in the first place, under the worst possible circumstances and maybe two seconds before Logan was finally going to muster up the courage to tell her himself? Will all of the little elements that have been dropped in like breadcrumbs throughout the story (including a boat that Logan has been secretly restoring for Elizabeth, a remote treehouse and the ricketiest bridge to hit the screen since "Sorcerer") finally get a chance to pay off big during the final act? Will there be a tragedy that nevertheless manages to bring all the survivors together in the end? Will I go back into this review and scrub out the "Tattoo" reference and replace it a Bruce Dern title that most people might actually recognize--something like "Black Sunday" or "MIddle Age Crazy"? Luckily for the more inattentive viewers of, most of these questions can be answered right here without actually seeing the film at all (an excellent idea under the circumstances), leaving you free to ask more pertinent questions, such as "So, when do these dopes get to the cabin in the woods anyway?"
From beginning to end, "The Lucky One" feels like what might have resulted if a warehouse filled with the collected works of Nicholas Sparks was blown up and the books, instead of being instantly reduced to dust, somehow morphed into one uber-tome featuring jumbo-sized versions of all his beloved narrative tropes--star-crossed lovers who are either brought together or torn apart by fate, an outsider who runs afoul of the locals while winning the heart of the most attractive local of the opposite sex, some form of document being deployed as a kind of symbol, estrangements, reconciliations, tragic demises, postcard-quality locales (even the run-down shack that Logan rents is as pretty and spacious as one could hope), dark backstory elements that are mentioned once and then never referred to again (such as Logan's PTSS and Mom's stroke) and, most importantly of all, moments in which we see one of the character staring longingly outside a window at something or other . Of course, these elements are not necessarily unique to Sparks but his stories inflate them to such gargantuan degrees and in such a straight-faced manner that it is pretty much impossible for anyone not already in the bag for this type of film to sit through it without breaking out into helpless giggles every few minutes. Put it this way--this is the second movie this year to be released featuring Zac Efron quoting Dr. Seuss but of the two, this is the less plausible by far.
Look, I understand that part of the fun of this type of film is watching the characters move through their expected paces. The trouble here is that director Scott Hicks--the guy you hire to direct pseudo-literary gloop when Lasse Hallstrom is otherwise engaged--has no feel for Sparks' brand of gibberish and can do nothing with it other than place it in front of the cameras in the most mundane manner possible and hope that viewers don't notice just how lazy and half-assed his efforts are here. Despite barely having enough story for an hour-long drama, Hicks drags things out with one insufferably languorous sequence after another and when they don't slow things down quite enough for him, he further applies the brakes with one extended montage sequence after another--so many montages, in fact, that if they were to be removed from the final cut, the movie would actually be over before it even begins, more so than it already is.This isn't a film as much as it is a two-hour book report that recounts the basic plot points but which offer no unique insights of its own. The only time Hicks actually offers something of a cinematic nature comes at the climax, a rain-swept bit of lunacy that culminates in a manner so ridiculous that it would be the most insane finale in recent memory if it weren't for the conclusion of last week's "Lockout." The ending is so nutty, in fact, that if you should find yourself stuck watching it, you have to steel yourself into sticking it out to the bitter end to see what happens for yourself.
As I have pointed out many times before in writing about films of this type, "The Lucky One" might have been able to transcend its baseline silliness if we were able to be swept away by the romantic chemistry of the two leads to such a degree that all other concerns became secondary. Unfortunately, the movie suffers from an absolute lack of said chemistry thanks to the miscasting of those leads. For starters, I have no problem with Zac Efron as a performer--I enjoyed the "High School Musical" films as much as any person of my age and gender possibly good and greatly admired his little-seen turn in Richard Linklater's "Me and Orson Welles"--but even his most ardent admirers would be hard-pressed to agree that he is the ideal person to be playing a tough war veteran struggling to learn to live and love again in the face of the horrors that he has seen. He just looks too young and baby-faced to be believable and his attempts to demonstrate just how haunted he is compare unfavorably to his similar role in the redoubtable "Charlie St. Cloud." Not only does he not look for a moment as though he had gone through the horrors of war, he doesn't even look as though he went through the bus trip to the induction center. Schilling, whom you probably didn't see in the lead of the misbegotten screen adaptation of the first third of "Atlas Shrugged," is similarly miscast as Elizabeth because, quite frankly, she seems a bit too old for him and the disparity is a bit distracting at times--if you wanted to know what the bubble-brained Efron body-switching bomb "17 Again" would have been like if it had been done in a deadly serious manner, here is your chance. And since there is never a moment in which they are even vaguely believable as a couple, the whole enterprise sinks into the void that they have left at the center as a result.Okay, perhaps I have not taking this analysis of "The Lucky One" quite as seriously as some of you may have hoped--certainly nowhere near as seriously as it takes itself in scene after dreadful scene. In my defense, I must point out that the whole thing is just so off-the-charts silly that to do so would require the kind of Herculean effort that anyone outside of a 12-year-old girl or a lazy quote whore could possibly muster. If you are predisposed to gooney romantic slush in general and Sparks' patented brand of pop-lit pap in particular, there is a chance that you may swoon for it in the same way that you did with "The Notebook," "Dear John" or that one where sweet Mandy Moore died of cancer or shark bite or a bite from a cancerous shark. If this sort of thing is not your cup of tea, there is no absolutely nothing here for you except for ample fodder for two hours of smart-mouthed derision a la "Mystery Science Theater 3000." Under normal circumstances, I would never endorse such a notion, largely because most amateurs who try it are never quite as amusing as they think they are. In this case, however, the fruit is hanging so low that even the lamest quipster is likely to have a field day with it. I'll even get you started. At the very end of the movie, when the camera is pulling back on the bucolic setting and the end credits are about to roll, call out "Hey, look--it's Dad!" Trust me, it will go over like gangbusters.
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