It's difficult to keep an open mind about movies based on the works of writer Nicholas Sparks. With every film based on his books that doesn't live up to "The Notebook" - see also "Nights in Rodanthe," "Dear John" and "The Last Song" - pessimism grows. But one can always hope.
In "The Lucky One," the latest film based on a Sparks novel, a brooding and simmering Zac Efron plays Logan, a Marine with three tours of duty in the Iraqi theater under his belt. During a mission, he discovers a picture of a beautiful young blond woman and walks over to pick it up. At that moment, an explosion rocks the area where he would've been standing had he not bothered with the picture.
Logan believes that picture saved his life. After an IED blows up his tank, he's sent back home suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. That's when he resolves to find the gorgeous woman he considers his lucky charm.
An Internet search brings Logan to the town of Hamden, where he finds her. Beth (Taylor Schilling) runs a dog kennel with her grandmother, played by Blythe Danner. They meet, but Logan can't summon the courage to explain why he's there. Beth finds him odd while grandma finds him interesting. You know who else finds Logan interesting? Beth's young son, Ben. Who doesn't find Logan interesting? Beth's sociopathic ex-husband, Keith, who also happens to be the town sheriff and the son of the powerful local judge.
If you can't see where this is going, then this is the perfect movie for you. If you can but still want to see it, it's probably still the perfect movie for you.
I root for Zac Efron. He's an exceptionally nice guy and as an actor he has a tremendous upside. "The Lucky One" is a nice step in his progression toward being one of Hollywood's top leading men, but he's not there yet. He clearly worked hard on this role, physically transforming himself and showing more confidence in the film's quiet moments.
His restraint in this role is admirable but he's still a work in progress, and director Scott Hicks ("Shine") chose a few shots that highlight Efron's awkwardness. Could be Hicks was only trying to convey Logan's awkwardness but if that's the case, he failed.
So much for hope. "The Lucky One" once again doesn't come close to capturing the magic of "The Notebook." That's not to say you won't feel a little tug on your heartstrings, but "The Lucky One" just tries too hard to be profoundly moving.
Two-and-a-half out of five stars.