Does he urinate on the side of the road instead of waiting for a gas station? Check.
Does he have a ex-girlfriend who’s trying to turn her life around? Check.
He even drinks Lone Star beer (movie shorthand for tough-guy-with-a-heart-of-gold).
Jesse is supposedly a talented musician, but he makes his living — such as it is — hustling pool. We first meet him as he’s rolling into a town with a bar that, wouldn’t you know it, is just about to have a tournament with a big cash prize. The town — possibly coincidentally, possibly not — also happens to be the home of Jesse’s ex-girlfriend Carla (Sophia Bush), whose character is as generic as Jesse’s. The duo’s alcohol-and-drug-fueled, vaguely seedy, mostly sweet reunion is the heart of the film. It’s just a shame there’s so much filler surrounding it.
Much of the success of “Hard Luck Love Song” is thanks to Dorman, who has that generically rugged handsomeness the role requires, while also bringing shades of goofiness that make the us root for Jesse maybe just a bit more than if he were merely another embodiment of lost potential swaddled in blue jeans. As Carla, Bush does less, but she has less to work with. Brian Sacca, who deserves a major tip of the Stetson for his role as a police officer in two scenes, does some laughingly unbelievable things, but somehow makes it work.
Some stories are classic: The troubled hero and his inspirational/tortured muse is one of them. (There’s a reason “A Star is Born” has been remade so often.) “Hard Luck Love Song” doesn’t so much recast a traditional story as it repeats it. There are no new levels of character, plot or structure here, nothing to distinguish it except for the longing it creates in its audience to be watching one of the movies from which it seems to have been derived. It’s not that the movie is badly made; it’s just that it’s been done better before — and often. If “A Star Is Born” is the perfect Italian gelato of the genre, then “Hard Luck Love Song” is frogurt.
Still, there’s enough good here so as not to entirely disappoint. In addition to Dorman’s performance, there’s the cinematography of Jas Shelton, who is particularly good when shooting at night. Corsbie has some good instincts, but can be self-indulgent. The film’s spot-on use of music is a strength, right up until it’s spot-on one too many times. “Hard Luck Love Song” is just a late, weak entry in an already strong and overcrowded field.
Jesse is sure he’s got one big song in him, and maybe he does. And maybe he’s already drank and snorted that part of his promise away. That’s how “Hard Luck Love Song” lands: This isn’t a hit, but maybe the next time we see Corsbie again, he’ll deliver something really worth listening to.
R. At area theaters. Contains strong language throughout, drug use, some violence and sexual references. 104 minutes.