10 May 2012


The heroes in Nicholas Sparks' novels tend to be reliably reconstructed paragons of sensitive masculinity, often having served in the armed forces in some way or another, only to return from active duty and fall in love with a woman who will appreciate their numerous talents, their sense of fairness and justice, and, above all, their gentle spirit. Following in the footsteps of Ryan Gosling and Channing Tatum, such a hero is not the biggest leap for Zac Efron, as an actor.

The latest Sparks movie is based on his novel, The Lucky One, referring to a US Marine named Logan, who narrowly avoids being blown to bits by an IED while serving in Iraq, by the grace of investigating an abandoned photograph in a pile of rubble. The photo depicts Beth, a kennel worker and single mother who lives in Louisiana, and Logan vows to find her and thank her, upon his return to the States. But of course, stuff gets a little more complicated than that.

The plot is exactly as slim and as fluffy as described above- you're sort of watching Logan and Beth get to know each other, and fall in love, sure, but the film can't really go anywhere that you can't predict a mile off until he lets her know about his connection to her, and to the brother who apparently died as a result of friendly fire on the same day as Logan eluded death. Because there's really so little else to it, that takes quite a while, but Beth is at least too swoony about his pecs to worry about anything he has to get off that chest.

Even aside from the already noted virtues of a Nicholas Sparks hero, Logan is basically competing to be The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived- he is extensively, hilariously glorified. Aside from his brave service in Iraq, which is always a plus, he's also a genius at chess, a master pianist and a great handyman, while also being a polite dog-lover who's good with kids. Efron's up for the challenge, but behind his attempt to reach from teen idol to matinee idol, the script never squares his altruism in any meaningful context. If he were really good and everyone else was just imperfect, you might have something, and likewise if he were only all right, and everyone else was totally evil.

It's a film that is populated by extremely broad stereotypes. Beth has a useless ex-husband- of course, she has a useless ex-husband- who's the police deputy son of the town mayor, and thus gets away with pretty much anything. So naturally, he drinks, he mistreats his ex-wife, and doesn't understand why their young son Ben is into all that girly shit like music and dogs, instead of sports and beer. Again, actor Jay R. Ferguson doesn't do a bad job, per se, but the character is such a cartoon that the binary opposite between himself and Logan might as well be Dr. Claw and Inspector Gadget, for all the subtlety and nuance it has.

I'm well aware that Sparks-inspired movies aren't exactly known for subtlety, or for nuance, but this is probably one of the weaker efforts, even considering the competition. There's barely enough plot to go around, especially as the film constantly stirs up conflict and then wimps out of resolving it, on the way to the glaringly obvious omission on Logan's part. Taylor Schilling's Beth goes from 0 to googly-eyes in about ten seconds, and although she and Efron make the most out of what erotic chemistry and sexual shenanigans you can show in a 12A movie, their relationship is just another of the movie's more predictable points.

Once again, this is one of those films in which characters simply sitting down and talking about stuff like grown-ups, instead of contriving to uphold misunderstandings and keep secrets from one another, could have made something a little more watchable than this. When it works, it's Another Earth, for instance, but Logan has to remain guilt-free in the brother's death, or he wouldn't be a shiny, lovely Sparks hero, so his anxiety amounts to naught. It takes so long to get through this wrinkle that there's only time for one big gut-busting finale once it's through. I am not going to spoil what happens here, but I am laughing to myself as I write this, remembering how silly it gets.

The Lucky One wears the Nicholas Sparks tropes proudly on its sleeve, and as staid as each of his plots tend to be, there was at least a bit more dramatic potential to be mined out of this one. If Efron doesn't convince as a former soldier, it's because they never really grit their teeth and give him any real problems to chew over, and so on with Ferguson's evil-ness and Schilling's flirting. It's all a vehicle for tweenage swoonage, anyhow; a summer-y concoction with bittersweet pretensions and not a whole lot of substance to support a cast who seem to be taking it a little more seriously than it deserves.

The Lucky One is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen The Lucky One, why not share your comments below? Also, Blythe Danner pretty much got paid to sit around, raising her eyebrows and smiling- being the elderly relative in one of these movies is a sweet gig.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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