Logan (Zac Efron) was trained by the U.S. Marines, but he could just as well be mistaken for a knife of the Swiss Army variety: he can shoot enemy insurgents, disarm drunken civilians with ease, walk cross-country with trusty dog in tow, train animals, charm kids, sport profound tattoos, play the piano, play chess, rattle off philosophers, pick up playing cards, repair farms, fix boats, and mend broken hearts.
In other words, he’s the ideal protagonist for Scott Hicks’ The Lucky One, the latest adaptation of a swoon-tastic novel by Nicholas Sparks, that literary equivalent of the late Thomas Kinkade. Logan’s opening voice-over describes how fate can throw one’s life off-course, but nothing about the film that follows strays from Sparks’ well-established tear-jerking formula of star-crossed lovers in the American South having their relationship intruded upon by disapproving relatives, big secrets and the death of at least one character.
Of course, it’s hard to be star-crossed on one’s own. While on his third tour of duty in Iraq, Logan comes across a picture of Beth (Taylor Schilling) among the post-raid rubble, and by virtue of picking it up, he’s spared a death by mortar fire where he stood mere moments before. The photo becomes something of a good luck charm, and once Logan returns Stateside, he becomes determined to find and thank this woman, hoofing it all the way from Colorado to Louisiana after he digs up an address.
Once Logan gets there and finds himself face-to-face with his guardian angel, he fumbles long enough for Beth to assume that he must be there for a job at her kennel, and for no other reason. The entire film is predicated on this particularly asinine scenario, but sure enough, Logan rolls right with it, constantly losing his nerve to tell this single mother the truth, even after she mentions losing her brother Over There. He’s a hard-working handyman with a heart of gold, though, so who are Beth and her grandmother, Ellie (Blythe Danner), to question it? No, that’s a job best left to Beth’s blowhard ex-husband, Keith (Jay R. Ferguson), who threatens to fight her with the might of his sheriff pals and mayor daddy for the custody of their child if she doesn’t ditch this hunky drifter for good.
Until the other shoe inevitably drops, Hicks (Shine, No Reservations) coats everything in that twilight-hour bayou glow and allows his pretty leads to montage their way from initial wariness to heavy petting. Logan’s post-traumatic stress disorder handily fades away after the film’s first ten minutes (maybe he was just traumatized by Colorado itself?), and Beth goes about scrubbing pots in the sink with a suggestive zeal while watching her mysterious stalker as he toils in the barn. The kid’s adorable, the grandma’s adorable, and pretty people with good intentions reign supreme -- like I said, it’s a Nicholas Sparks movie.
The question is whether or not the chemistry of the leads can trump the inherent melodrama of the material, leaving The Lucky One to rank either among the better Sparks adaptations (The Notebook, Dear John) or the lesser ones (The Last Song, A Walk to Remember). Despite his proven star power in the lightweight likes of Hairspray, 17 Again, and Me and Orson Welles, Efron mistakes a brooding air for war-tested maturity, often letting his stare and stubble do the work, while Schilling (much worse in the far worse Atlas Shrugged: Part I) runs harried circles around him until she either goes about hysterically wrecking a garden or tackling him for shower sex. They make sense for one another by virtue of simply being there, and neither can be all that embarrassed so long as Ferguson rides in from time to time, twirling his invisible mustache and ensuring that, no matter how long Logan stifles his secret, he’s still a better man for Beth than Keith could ever be.
Not just a better man, mind you, but the perfect man. It stands to reason that Nicholas Sparks movies are just as much about wish fulfillment for its target audience as so many other films are for theirs, but so far as these hunks of cheese go, there have been better ones than this, and luck has never really had much to do with that.