The latest cinematic adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks romance novel, The Lucky One is a messy, tone-deaf, and laughable movie outing, an embarrassment to director Scott Hicks (Shine, The Boys Are Back), a black mark against Zac Efron‘s attempts at becoming a romantic lead, and an unsurprising continuation of Sparks’s ceaseless attack on what passes for a love story these days. Let’s put it this way - The Lucky One is so dismal, so off-kilter, so nonsensical that even the ever-ready charms of Zac Efron cannot redeem it in the slightest.

At its heart, the film hinges on one of Sparks’s most ludicrous conceits yet – Marine Logan Thibault (Efron, more bulked up than ever, yet still unable to even resemble a professional solider)  is “rescued” by a picture of an unknown woman during his third tour of Iraq, a laminated picture of a pretty girl that catches his eye and pulls him away from a structure that blows up right behind him. If he hadn’t gone for the picture, he would be dead – the girl in the photograph saved him. At least, that’s what Logan thinks and what The Lucky One rests on. Convinced he owes some debt to the girl in the picture, Logan embarks on a quest to find her once he returns to the States.

What Logan finds is dog kennel owner Beth Green (Taylor Schilling), the prettiest (and coldest) girl in tiny Hamden, Louisiana. Stumbling into Beth’s kennel, Logan is unable to explain just why he’s there, with Beth jumping ahead before he can gather his wits about himself – a common interaction in the film (and its true central problem), and one that will be repeated throughout The Lucky One, always to the same ends. Beth thinks he’s there for a job in the kennels, and Logan can’t rebuff her before he agrees to stay to help her, her grandmother (Blythe Danner, underused as ever), and her young son (Riley Thomas Stewart) with their work. We’re meant to understand why Logan takes the job, because of Beth’s emphatic word choice – they need some “help.” The wheels spin behind Logan’s eyes, and the connection is clear (it is, perhaps, the last clear thing in the film) – Beth needs help, Beth helped Logan in Iraq, he will help her now.

Saddled with an asshole ex-husband (the grinning, menacing Jay R. Ferguson), more work than she can handle, and a pocketful of personal demons, Beth is the exact type of woman most men would balk at – which is the perfect woman for a Sparksian hero to take on. Still worse, Schilling’s Beth is grating and dismissive, and yet, despite all of her jabs at Logan and her continued protests against his charms (and Efron is turning the charm up to eleven here), Schilling still spends the entire film mooning at Efron, unable to summon anything beyond bedroom eyes, even when she’s trying to brush him off. It’s the worst kind of foreplay. It’s also a terrible performance by the actress, best known for starring in last year’s trainwreck (pun entirely intended) adaptation of Atlas Shrugged. At least she took a risk on that one.

Woefully paced, The Lucky One tears through some of its most interesting bits – Logan’s time in Iraq, his return to the U.S., his obvious PTSD, his cross-country walk to find Beth, even actually finding Beth – at breakneck speed, covering all of those plot points before the film’s opening credits are even complete. Yet, beyond just the wooden dialogue, the complete lack of chemistry between the two leads, and a clunker of a plot, The Lucky One is shockingly technically incompetent. A victim of mercilessly poor editing and still worse dubbing, the film can’t even scrape by on the most basic of accomplishments.

Already crippled by its source material, the script’s adaptation by Will Fetters (who is also responsible for 2010′s terrible Remember Me) is wholly unable to stir either affection or understanding. Sparks’s books (and, by extension, the films based on his books) have a very specific way of doing things – which is to say, a very slapdash and predictable way of doing things. It seems more likely than ever that the author has filled a jar with slips of paper that contain plot points written out on them – “military,” “dead parents,” “cancer,” “North Carolina,” “dogs,” “treehouse,” and the like – from which he literally draws out his inspiration. Worse still is that Sparks continues to load up his increasingly unoriginal plots with a bevy of loaded guns and red herrings – will the beloved grandmother die of another stroke? Is that the assured tragedy at the center of the film? Will one of the kennel dogs escape and get hit by a car? Is that what will drive our lovebirds apart? Sparks also seems increasingly less concerned with throwing a third-act curveball at his audience that makes a lick of sense and has some emotional resonance. He hit it out of the park in The Notebook, but it’s been downhill ever since.

The Upside: There are cute dogs in it.

The Downside: Emotionally, tonally, and technically messy, the film is laughable when it’s trying to hit its emotional beats and flat-out boring the rest of the time.

On the Side: The film is the seventh adaptation of a Sparks novel to hit the big screen, with two more currently in some form of pre-production.


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