Too mellow, not much drama
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, Apr. 20, 2012
Can a drama be too restrained? "The Lucky One," adapted from a Nicholas Sparks novel, stars Zac Efron in a sudsy romantic melodrama that in the 1950s would have been directed with lurid overkill by the likes of Douglas Sirk.
Would that this tepid, inert enterprise had Sirk's nerve and verve. Instead, director Scott Hicks lavishes good taste and sunsets on a story that - devoid of genuine tension, conflict or combustible chemistry between its two stars - just prettily sits there.
Efron plays Logan Thibault, who as a Marine in Iraq happens upon a photograph of a beautiful blonde and proceeds to see the picture as a talisman that saves his life. When he returns to the United States, he tracks down the girl - who turns out to be a single mother named Beth (Taylor Schilling) - and begins working in the dog kennel she runs with her grandmother, played with vinegary acumen by Blythe Danner.
All great romances hinge on two things: keeping the principals apart and getting them together. When a conclusion is as foregone as the one in "The Lucky One," the first part of the equation becomes nothing but contrivance and ginned-up conflict. Here, the obstacles consist largely of Logan's attempts to tell Beth why he has come to Louisiana (changed from North Carolina in the book), but choking handsomely on his words.
Human Dreamsicle Efron has buffed and tattooed himself to the bulked-up extreme for his big dramatic turn in "The Lucky One," but the role of a stoic, expressionless philosopher-soldier requires that he tamp down his natural exuberance and physical grace, a regrettable misuse of his native talents.
Schilling possesses the natural beauty of Reese Witherspoon mixed with the less processed charm of Leslie Mann, but her travails with a bullying ex-husband and sensitive son don't quite qualify as dramatically high stakes.
Most of "The Lucky One" consists in proving how sensitive Logan is (he reads Melville and plays the piano with a suitably faraway look) and how put-upon Beth is as she clatters around her grandmother's impeccably distressed cottage and affects Veronica Lake-esque bangs-in-the-eye sultriness. (Surely one index of age is the reflexive desire to tell an actress she'd be so much prettier if she'd get her hair our of her face. But really, Schilling would.)
In 2004, "The Notebook" - from another Sparks novel - became a bona fide sleeper hit, catapulting the relatively unknown Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling to newfound stardom. "The Lucky One" tries hard to re-bottle that lightning, to no avail. Some bolts are best delivered out of the blue.
Contains some sexuality and violence.