THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"THE LUCKY ONE"
The Lucky One is the latest movie adapted from a Nicholas Sparks novel. Ah, Nicholas Sparks. I haven't read any of the man's books, but the films based on them have all been the same. Two damaged people meet and fall passionately in love. That love is tested by some kind of obstacle. Somebody usually dies at the end; often it's a lead character, other times a supporting one. Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, Dear John, Nights in Rodanthe, The Last Song - all basically the same story with the specifics changed. No point in bashing the man, as his work has been very popular. The Lucky One adheres faithfully to the Nicholas Sparks formula, which may well please Nicholas Sparks fans. Everyone else will see the film as I did – as a generic, predictable, completely pre-fab production.
Zac Efron plays Logan, a US Marine who is serving the last of his three tours of duty in Iraq. He finds a picture of an unknown young woman amid some rubble. Because he stops to pick up the photo, he misses being killed in a blast that takes the lives of several fellow soldiers. Figuring it to be a good luck charm, he keeps the picture. Turns out he might be right, as he narrowly escapes death several more times.
After returning home to the States, Logan decides to track down the mystery woman. She is Beth (Taylor Schilling), a single mom who runs a dog kennel in North Carolina. When Logan arrives at her home, he wants to tell her why he's there. Instead, she hires him to work with the dogs. He also bonds with her son and clashes with her jealous, abusive ex-husband. (Is there any other kind of ex in a Nicholas Sparks tale? No, there is not.) After some initial distrust, Beth realizes that she is falling for Logan. You know the rest from here. The secret comes out, there's hurt and betrayal, a life-and-death situation comes out of nowhere to provide a resolution, the end.
A substantial problem with The Lucky One is the rote quality of the source material. A bigger problem is that the filmmakers didn't adapt it in an interesting way. One can't necessarily fault them for taking an “if it ain't broke, don't fix it approach” in adapting a best-seller. At the same time, faithfulness does not automatically make a movie good. The dialogue is flat, and the pacing feels like its being dictated by a metronome. Everything happens at the precise moment and in the exact manner you expect it to. Director Scott Hicks (a one-time Oscar nominee for Shine) gets beautiful shots of scenery, but does nothing to make the story come alive. For all the manufactured drama, it's surprisingly emotionless.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that The Lucky One is the kind of movie in which the lead character has to be an idiot in order for the story to progress. (The late Gene Siskel used to refer to this as “the idiot plot.”) Logan keeps “trying” to tell Beth his secret, only to find some reason why he can't do it. This means that we know he's not being honest with her as she's falling in love with him. And, of course, she's going to be royally ticked when she finally discovers what he's been hiding. Such an approach makes Logan an irritating character. Common sense would dictate that he should tell her immediately, or at least as soon as things begin to heat up between them. If he were to do that, though, the film would be over in fifteen minutes, so he must continue to make wrongheaded choices that take away some of our sympathy for him. Those choices also ensure the plot will resolve itself in a thoroughly cliched fashion.
If there's a saving grace in all this – and there is – it's Taylor Schilling, a relative newcomer whose highest profile work to date was in last year's uber-flop Atlas Shrugged. Likeable, believable, and charismatic, Schilling partially redeems the movie all by herself. Her performance is heartfelt. Somehow, in the middle of a routine, paint-by-numbers formula, she finds a way to bring some humanity to The Lucky One.
As I've said before, big screen romances are the most critically ill genre around. Be they comedies or dramas, so many do nothing more than recycle the exact same elements, leaving viewers with a perpetual feeling of deja vu. The Lucky One has pretty people swooning over one another. It has kissing, and sex, and fighting, and reconciling. It has moments designed to yank a tear from your eye. What it lacks – fatally, I'm afraid – is a pulse.
( out of four)
The Lucky One is rated PG-13 for some sexuality and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 41 minutes.
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