The Lucky One drowns in schmaltz (review)

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The Lucky One, movie
The Lucky One: Zac Efron moves away from the clean-cut kid from High School Musical

It’s always unfortunate when an actor attempts to expand their range, only to be let down by an inferior script. Sadly, that’s exactly what happens to Zac Efron in The Lucky One. Fair play to Efron, he clearly wants to be seen as more than the clean-cut kid from High School Musical, and this character would seem to be a perfect fit.

Adapted from Nicholas Sparks’ novel, Efron stars as Logan, a soldier who discovers the photo of a woman in a war-zone. After narrowly missing a bomb blast, Logan believes the photo is his good luck charm and he returns to America to track down the woman in question.

This being a Sparks adaptation, the first sight of Taylor Schilling as Efron’s eventual conquest sees her backlit in gloopy sunlight, walking towards the camera in slow-motion and wearing a pair of cut-off denim shorts. She also runs a dog kennel so that means she has a heart of gold. Of course, Efron doesn’t get around to telling her why he’s taken an interest until a convenient point in the narrative.

Credit where it’s due, The Notebook proved it’s possible to make a decent adaptation of Sparks’ work. That movie, although corny and cheesy, was buoyed by lively chemistry between Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling, and had a charming flashback story structure. But The Lucky One isn’t on that level. There’s a fundamental problem with a movie that expects us to take a vested interest in a character who has as much psychological depth as a Thunderbird puppet (Efron’s relentless, creepy staring and stiff posture does invoke cries of ‘FAB!’).

Critical scenes are also treated in arbitrary fashion – the opening bomb blast which provides the catalyst for Logan’s journey is over and done in a matter of seconds, and Efron seems less affected by it than he would be over the death of his pet hamster. As for the moment in which Schilling demonstrates that she also has issues by destroying her potted plants in a fit of rage – that’s one of the greatest unintentionally funny scenes in a movie this year.

The flaws in Will Fetters’ script are exacerbated by Scott Hicks’ laboured direction, which absorbs so much sunlight one almost expects to get a tan in the cinema. Vital information is also spoon-fed to the audience: Efron demonstrates he’s a man’s man by sizing up a piece of guttering, yet he’s also sensitive because he likes kids and dogs. Meanwhile, Schilling’s ex-husband Keith (Jay R Ferguson), who’s also the town’s deputy Sheriff, practically cries out for a Dr Evil style raised-finger-to-lip movement, so melodramatic is he in his pantomime villainy.

It’s a pity as The Lucky One is clearly a movie made with the best intentions. If only the film’s good luck had extended beyond good weather in the Louisiana bayous.