U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault (Zac Efron) returns from his third tour of duty in Iraq, with the one thing he credits with keeping him alive - a photograph he found of a woman he doesn't even know. Learning her name is Beth (Taylor Schilling) and where she lives, he shows up at her door, and ends up taking a job at her family-run local kennel. Despite her initial mistrust and the complications in her life, a romance develops between them, giving Logan hope that Beth could be much more than his good luck charm.

The luck runs out for novelist Sparks in dreary, soulless adaptation.

The seventh movie adapted from Nicholas Sparks’ novels, The Lucky One, is among the least entertaining, credible or compelling. Yes, the melodrama adheres to Sparks’ heretofore winning formula of star-crossed lovers who overcome disease or other adversities.

But the movie rarely rises above the level of a torpid Mills & Boon soap opera, stymied by dodgy casting, Will Fetters’ stodgy screenplay and uninspired direction by Scott Hicks.

Almost every plot development is predictable, the chemistry between leads Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling is negligible, and the narrative meanders along with few climactic moments. I’ve not read the book but surely its 326 pages offered more scope for dramatic interludes? Maybe not.

Sparks’ admirers who’ve enjoyed the big screen versions of tomes such as Dear John, Nights in Rodanthe, The Notebook, Message in a Bottle and The Last Song are likely to be sorely disappointed with this clunky, B-grade effort.

Efron plays 25-year-old Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault, who’s on his third tour of Iraq when he narrowly avoids being hurt by an explosion which kills three fellow soldiers. In the rubble he finds a photo of a blonde woman, inscribed on the back with the words 'keep safe".

When Logan goes home to Colorado eight months later, understandably suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, he resolves to find the mystery woman whom he believes is his guardian angel. Miraculously, he figures out her name is Beth (Schilling) and where she lives in rustic Louisiana. In one of the film’s puzzling incongruities, Logan elects to walk there, accompanied by his German Shepherd Zeus, a distance of around 1,500 km.

It turns out Beth runs dog kennels, is divorced, has a seven-year-old son named Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart, one of those adorable looking kids who seem to populate almost every Yank melodrama), and lives with her wise, kind grandmother Ellie (Blythe Danner), having lost her parents in a car crash. Beth is pert and perky except when grieving for her brother who was killed in Iraq.

Inevitably their first meeting doesn’t go well as Beth mistakenly thinks he’s applying for a vacancy as a helper and thinks he’s crazy, but grandma offers him the job. You just know that romance will develop sooner or later despite Logan’s inability to tell Beth the reason he came looking for her. Equally predictable developments are Logan bonding with Ben over games of chess; Ellie eyeing Logan as a suitable suitor way before Beth realises it; and Beth’s ex, local cop Keith (Mad Men’s Jay R. Ferguson), taking an instant dislike to the interloper.

The narrative is so thin it’s interspersed with shots of Logan and/or Beth exercising, grooming and washing the cuddly dogs. Apart from the threat of a custody battle over Ben there are long, dull stretches until the antipathy between Logan and Keith simmers to boiling point. A climactic scene during a storm is poorly staged and unconvincing.

Efron is the right age for his character but he’s never going to be plausible as a battle-hardened veteran. Hicks and cinematographer Alar Kivilo do the actor no favours with frequent close-ups of Logan’s reactions, which range from looking mildly annoyed and reticent to blank expressions and increasingly love-struck.

At the world premiere in Sydney Efron talked about meeting with Marines in Camp Pendleton in California to prepare for the role; it’s hard to know what, if any, insights he gleaned.

Co-starring in just her second movie following the unseen Atlas Shrugged: Part I, Schilling struggles to make an impression. She tears up on cue, particularly when she tells Logan about her brother being killed in action, but otherwise is a fairly drab, colourless character.

Their love scenes are brief and un-erotic: Efron is glimpsed topless while Schilling retains her modesty. The dialogue is banal, as when she confesses after their first kiss, 'I’m sorry, it’s been so long" and he replies 'It’s all right."

Ferguson draws the short straw playing a thoroughly loathsome, ill-tempered and jealous oaf who shows some affection for his son but has no other redeemable features.

Kivilo bathes many scenes with a golden glow, more suggestive of a Hallmark telemovie than a major feature which reportedly cost $35 million.

The soundtrack alternates between bland pop songs and lush orchestrals, serving as a distraction rather than an enhancement of the film’s amped-up moods.

Sparks may well claim that using American casualties in Iraq for a fictional story is a legitimate literary device: I find it distasteful, especially when it’s wrapped up in such syrupy tosh.


1 hour 41 min
In Cinemas 19 April 2012,