Combustible Celluloid
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With: Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, Blythe Danner, Riley Thomas Stewart, Jay R. Ferguson, Adam LeFevre, Robert Terrell Hayes, Joe Chrest, Russell Durham Comegys, Sharon Morris, Ann McKenzie, Kendal Tuttle
Written by: Will Fetters, based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks
Directed by: Scott Hicks
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexuality and violence
Running Time: 101
Date: 04/19/2012

The Lucky One (2012)

1/2 Star (out of 4)

Out of Luck

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

If only the movies based on Nicholas Sparks' novels didn't take themselves so seriously. If only they had a sense of their soapiness, and embraced their naked emotional absurdity. They could be their own great subgenre of giant-sized weepies. But instead, the producers hire people like Scott Hicks, a one-time Best Director nominee (for Shine), who will never be nominated, ever again. Hicks approaches the material from an outside perspective, looking at it like a clinical experiment -- or a marketing opportunity -- and not having any idea how to get inside it.

Though I haven't seen them all, Hicks' The Lucky One -- the seventh Sparks movie -- surely has a decent claim as the worst of the bunch. And so, not only is the movie uninvolving, but also it's completely ludicrous, and the ridiculous manipulations come through clearly. It begins with a sequence set in the Iraq War, and for a blatant attempt at a sense of seriousness and respectability, that's all you need to do. Hicks, of course, shakes the camera to suggest the chaos of war, just as 9000 other filmmakers have previously done.

Then a marine, Logan (Zac Efron), finds a photo of a girl in the dirt. When he gets up to retrieve it, the place he was just sitting is bombed, and he is safe. Has the photo saved his life? He's not sure. But when he returns he decides to find the girl in the photo. He does this rather easily, simply by showing the picture to a few people. But when he speaks to her -- her name is Beth (Taylor Schilling) -- he can't tell her about the photo.

Normally when movies use this cheap "lying" plot device to stretch out a romance story, it's because one character has something terrible to hide. Not here. Logan has simply found a photo, and he thinks it protected him. Why he can't impart this innocent information is not clear, and why -- when it finally comes out -- Beth reacts with such rage and hurt is an even deeper mystery.

Anyway, Logan gets a job working at Beth's animal shelter (no kidding), and though Beth initially doesn't like him, he proves that he has a dream man's checklist of attributes. He has a dog that he is very gentle with. He eats apples. He wears slightly torn jeans. He knows philosophy. He reads "Moby Dick." He can fix tractors -- and boats. He plays piano -- in church. He's good with kids. He refuses to fight the bully, but does not back down either. In essence, he's an impossible creature.

The bully in this case is Beth's ex-husband Keith (Jay R. Ferguson), and the current deputy sheriff of this adorable, small Southern town. Together, they share an adorable boy with typical movie kid mop-top hair. But Keith proves himself a jerk in scene after scene; he takes an instant dislike to Logan and tries to break up his budding relationship with Beth. Blythe Danner is also on board as Beth's mom, and she's the only one who seems to be laughing, as if to say, "what the hell am I doing here?"

It all comes down to a climactic chase/rescue scene in the rain. I dare you not to laugh when one character yells, "my foot is stuck!" I've seen better devices in Friday the 13th movies.

Perhaps this would have been bearable if Logan and Beth had any chemistry together. I had never heard of Taylor Schilling; I guess she's best known for a TV show called "Mercy." She's not very interesting, and not nearly as pretty as Efron, whose blue eyes outshine everything around him. For his part, Efron apparently decided that he would play Logan as tormented, wounded, and brooding, which instead comes across as a single dead-eyed expression, unchanged, scene after scene. (I'm now referring to him as "Zacbot.")

Probably the regular Sparks fans will eat this stuff up, swooning and weeping, but daring not to think about it for even a second. If they did, they might better enjoy something that's genuinely moving and heartbreaking like Terence Davies' The Deep Blue Sea.

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