The Lucky One is the edgiest-ever film adaptation of the writings of Nicholas Sparks.
Which isn't saying much.
Yeah, it has the violence of war, and the heat of near-sex. And profanity!
But it also has Sparks favorite tropes — or most of them. There's a coastal setting where two emotionally damaged people meet. They might be made whole again if only they can reveal their deep, dark hurt and find love.
Beth (Taylor Schilling) is a willowy, gorgeous single mom running a kennel with her speak-her-mind, state-the-obvious grandma (Blythe Danner).
Logan (Zac Efron) is a brooding, chivalrous ex-soldier.
"Isn't he chivalrous, dear?" Granny asks, elbowing Beth. And the viewer.
Logan met Beth before she knew it. He found her photo in the dust after a fierce firefight in Iraq. He lost comrades that day, and one of them had her photo. Somehow, Logan tracks Beth down in Louisiana without knowing whether she lost someone that day as well.
That's just the first artificial obstacle to true love that the movie sets up and then skips past, la-di-da, in this easygoing eye-roller of a romance.
Logan walked, with his faithful German shepherd, Zeus, all the way from Colorado.
"I like to walk," he says. Seems crazy, right?
"Are you crazy?" Granny asks.
He takes a job with Beth without revealing this photo that he thinks saved his life. He charms her, but she's slow to warm to that even as she ogles his backside in work jeans. He charms Granny and Beth's son, Ben, too.
Director Scott Hicks (Shine, Snow Falling on Cedars) lifts this material above the Dear John/Message in a Bottle/Last Song source, trying to maintain mystery about Beth and Logan, even though they're more character types than characters. Hicks and his stars serve up a little random passion, rare for a Sparks adaptation, and a scene or two of real sexual heat.
But at every turn, author Sparks hurls obvious melodramatic obstacles in the way, rubs the edge off even unpleasant characters and generally shows us why he'd be the worst poker player on the planet. The story telegraphs its every move, underlines every emotion, and as if that's not enough, has Granny add a pearl of wisdom that panders to the romance-novel audience: "Sacrificing everything in our life for our children is not selfless; it's ridiculous."
Sparks has been a hot author for Hollywood ever since The Notebook blew up. But the films of his books do him no favors. Well cast, sometimes beautifully shot, they're insipid, plainly inspired by the works of a now-very-wealthy hack.
The Lucky One, despite a slow-simmer turn by Efron and a lusty one by Schilling, is no deeper than Logan's philosophy of life — "Sometimes the questions are complicated, and the answers are simple."
Yeah, he's quoting Dr. Seuss.