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"THE LUCKY ONE"
(2012) (Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Believing her anonymous photo was the good luck charm that kept him alive during combat as a U.S. Marine, a man searches for the woman to thank her, but ends up falling in love with her, unintentionally complicating her life.
PLOT:
Believing an anonymous photo he found in overseas combat saved his life, former Marine Sgt. Logan Thibault (ZAC EFRON) has been looking for her ever since, hoping to thank her for keeping him alive. After walking with his dog from Colorado to Louisiana, he ends up finding her in a small town where she runs a kennel. She's Beth Clayton (TAYLOR SCHILLING), single mom to young son Ben (RILEY THOMAS STEWART), and adult granddaughter to Ellie (BLYTHE DANNER) who raised her and her brother following their parents' deaths long ago.

Before Logan can explain why he's there, Beth assumes he's applying for a part-time position at the kennel, but then tries to blow him off upon learning he was a Marine, just like her brother who was killed in combat. After Ellie hires him, Beth must accept him being around, something that pleases Ben, but displeases his cop father, Keith (JAY R. FERGUSON), who isn't happy to see a potential suitor hanging around with his ex-wife.

Initially, Beth and Logan's relationship is purely platonic, and he earns her trust by being a hard worker and all around nice guy. As their relationship starts to turn romantic, however, Keith becomes less pleased with the situation and does what he can to manipulate Beth into calling it off. Considering that and the fact that he can't manage to find the right time or words to explain why he first arrived, Logan tries to figure out how to deal with all of that and his growing affection toward Beth.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Everyone knows the old saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Aside from the grammar issues it contains, it's obviously a bit of tried and true wisdom that's proved to be valuable advice since whenever it was first uttered. Then again, there's also something to be said about the phrase "Change is good." And that's because without some sort of alteration or growth, things become stagnant, boring and usually end up withering away.

Both sayings obviously apply to movie genres and the works of particular people in the industry. From a business standpoint, as long as the formula continues to bring in the bucks, there's the sage question of why mess with success. Yet, for those who are tired of the "same old, same old," repetitive works oft make many a viewer, and especially most reviewers, wonder if there are any other tricks up the auteur's cinematic sleeves.

All of which brings us to the latest film adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, "The Lucky One." I'll readily admit I haven't read the original literary work or, for that matter, any of them from the highly successful author. But I've seen most of the filmed versions of "The Last Song," "Dear John," "Nights in Rodanthe," "The Notebook," "A Walk to Remember" and the first cinematic adaptation from way back in 1999, "Message in a Bottle."

While none of them have been box office blockbusters, they've all made decent money (especially considering what was likely fairly moderate budgets) playing to the same basic crowd that seems to enjoy what's delivered in each such package. And that's usually melodramatic trappings filled with damaged characters, budding but troubled romantic relationships, a character's death and more musical montages than one can shake a stick at (or at least keep count of before losing interest).

Yes, there are slight differences in locales, premises, character attributes and such, but there are few surprises. Let's just call them melodramatic comfort food for the Lifetime Channel crowd, and this is the latest such serving, as bland and uninteresting as usual. In it, Zac Efron plays a former Marine who, not surprisingly, has problems adapting back to normal life in the states (briefly shown when he violently pins one of his young nephews to the bed after the unfortunate kid decides to wake him up).

A good old-fashioned walk from Colorado to Louisiana (yes, you read that correctly, and his pet German Shepherd accompanies him) seems to have cleared up much of that, but he's on something more than just a vision quest. You see, one day in combat he discovered the photo of a pretty woman and chalked that -- and her -- up to being the good luck charm that kept him alive.

Since then, he's been searching for the real person to thank her and, lo and behold, manages to walk right into her little town where she works running a dog kennel. She's Beth (Taylor Schilling), divorced mom to young Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart). Before Logan gets the chance to explain why he's there, she assumes it's for a job at the kennel, and since this is a movie -- and a Nicholas Sparks one at that -- he can't manage to tell her the truth. Gee, do you think they'll eventually fall in love, make love during one of the many montages, and then nearly have that ruined once she learns -- cue the heavily dramatic chords -- that he had sort of, kind of been stalking here from afar?

There's also her ex (Jay R. Ferguson in a mostly one-dimensional role) who complicates matters, the woman's grandmother (Blythe Danner) who obviously has some advice to deliver, and the Grim Reaper lurking about somewhere just off camera, waiting for just the right moment in the third act to let his scythe fall. That's about the only thing of interest in the film (who's going to buy it and by what means).

To be fair, Efron does a fine job portraying his character even if it's not as developed as I would have liked. And he has a good chemistry with young Stewart, one of those mop head kids who borders on the fine line of being cute/adorable and being too precocious for his, and our, own good. Schilling is okay but likewise somewhat limited by her character not being fleshed out as much as she should have been, and her chemistry with Efron is decent but not of the melt the sheets variety.

Overall, the offering isn't awful, but I'd really like to see Sparks or at least the filmed versions of his work try something a bit different. You know, like combine his usual trappings with say, the black comedy, macabre premise of "Final Destination" especially since Death is always lurking around in his works anyway. Until then, if you enjoy these sorts of melodramas and their rote predictability, and have a track record of letting the waterworks flow based on what transpires therein, you'll probably like "The Lucky One." Otherwise, you might not find any titular connection back to yourself. The film rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed April 16, 2012 / Posted April 20, 2012


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