Reason No. 15,639 to hate America’s interminable idiotic wars in the Middle East: they provide fodder for Nicholas Sparks’ cheesy claptrap. Sparks has now written approximately 187 sappy romantic tragedies featuring sad, damaged, yet impossibly tender and soulful soldiers, and — unless my count is badly off — every single damn one of them has ended up on the big screen.
So now we have The Lucky One, the tale of sad, damaged U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault (Zac Efron: New Year’s Eve, Charlie St. Cloud), just returned from his third tour in the desert, where his life was saved by a photo of a pretty young woman. The photo was some other soldier’s good-luck token, yet one that obviously did not do its job, because Logan finds it abandoned, but hey! Logan is the hero of a story called The Lucky One, not that other guy. So he decides to track down the woman in the picture and thank her. Which he achieves by — no kidding — walking from Colorado to Louisiana, traveling only during those golden hours of glorious sunlight that occur just after dawn and just before sunset, which must have taken him absolutely forever. Then again, Logan informs us in his dreamy voiceovers that something or other is all about the “journey of our lives” and the “search for the light,” so perhaps this golden-hour continental walk is what he was referring to.
Anyway, Logan achieves half of his plan: He finds Beth Green (Taylor Schilling), which is perhaps the most plausible aspect of the flick, and it’s still not all that plausible. There is a lighthouse in the photo, see, that he is able to use to narrow down the town where the image was taken. But we can grant the story one unlikelihood, so let it be this: that Beth lives nearby where the photo was taken, and she wasn’t actually on vacation from a thousand miles away. Fine.
After this, however, the implausibilities start to stack up. Beth isn’t married or engaged, doesn’t have a boyfriend (or girlfriend), and is in fact just the sort of sad, damaged type herself who would dovetail beautifully with Logan’s own sadness and damage. He doesn’t know this, of course, when he introduces himself to her, but by a huge and ridiculous coincidence, he finds himself unable to tell her what brought him to her, and lets her assume that he has indeed come for the job at her dog kennel that needs filling.
Would the inevitable romance that develops between these two be far more interesting if he had told her right away, instead of letting this fact sit on the mantelpiece for a while until it goes off in a stupid, contrived, and yet entirely bland way? Of course it would… but that would be a tougher tale, and a far less sentimental one. Never let it be said that Nicholas Sparks [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] doesn’t prefer easy fake greeting-card melodrama instead of something that looks more like complicated reality. He could still tell a story about people who say things like “Do you think that life has a plan for you?” but the ending wouldn’t be so preordained, and there might even be a smidgen of suspense, surprise, and wonder to it.
The movie knows full well how tedious it is, because just as it’s getting really mired in the muck of monotony, up pops an action scene — wild storm! water rescue! — outta nowhere, which concludes in a way that makes it probably the most laughably convenient ending for a movie ever. The thing is that director Scott Hicks has made truly affecting emotional dramas before (The Boys Are Back, No Reservations), so he clearly knows how to do that. Screenwriter Will Fetters wrote the underrated Remember Me, so he might be off the hook here. It’s all Nicholas Sparks’ fault that this is all so safe and dull.
Then again, it’s probably Hicks’ fault for demonstrating that what I thought was an irrepressible charm on Efron’s part is actually quite repressible. He’s usually so charming onscreen, but this flick turns him mopey and robotic. It’s a shame. Letting him be himself might have saved this, but instead it’s just as mopey and robotic as its star.