It is difficult to review movies based on Nicholas Sparks novels for the same reason it would be difficult to review hard-core porn. This is not to suggest that the gettin’ busy featured in The Lucky One is anything but tasteful and PG-13 — just that both genres appeal to their viewers on, let us say, a nonintellectual level. Either you get off on Zac Efron staring at a girl with his blue, blue eyes for what feels like 20 minutes or you don’t. And, if you don’t even understand why a film would need eight montages of people frolicking in sunset landscapes while a soft rocker croons on the soundtrack, you can never hope to be a connoisseur of this genre.
The Lucky One targets viewers who don’t want too much character development getting in the way of their romance, just as many action movies are designed for those who don’t want too much dialogue getting in the way of their explosions. That said, it does have a plot. Efron plays Logan Thibault, a Marine who returns from three tours in Iraq clutching the snapshot of a beaming blonde. He doesn’t know who she is, but she saved his life when he paused to retrieve her image from the sand and thereby escaped a massacre.
Ill at ease in civilian life, Logan walks across several states in search of the mystery girl, whom he eventually finds running a dog-boarding service at a charming, ramshackle homestead in a Louisiana bayou town. She’s Beth (Taylor Schilling), single mom to an adorable, towheaded kid (Riley Thomas Stewart), and she assumes Logan has come for a job and hires him on the spot, swayed by his bland handsomeness and generally harmless demeanor. But what will she do when she discovers her photo among his belongings, exposing him as the world’s most benign and soulful stalker?
This question generates half the film’s dramatic tension. The other half comes from Beth’s nasty ex (Jay R. Ferguson), who won’t leave her alone. Ferguson’s role is one-note, but at least he manages to suggest inner turmoil, which seems to exceed Efron’s range. Although the former Disney star doesn’t overwork his dimples in this role, and manages to pull off “laconic and smoldering,” he’s just not convincing as a young man fresh from combat. There’s nothing haunted in those blue, blue eyes, so war remains a convenient backdrop to the couple’s budding romance, rather than a dark reality lurking behind the sweetness and light.
And there is so much of both. Director Scott Hicks, who long ago gave us the Oscar-winning Shine, coasts here on sun-drenched landscapes; his camera gives the unruly, tangled bayou foliage more character than anybody in the film.
The Lucky One delivers landscape porn and true-love porn — and, if those are your thing, there’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t expect complications. This is the kind of romance where the only true obstacle to the couple’s prospect of living happily ever after is Beth’s fear that Logan is too good to be real. I don’t think I’m spoiling much by revealing that, by the end, she has discovered he is every bit as wonderful as he seems. And she doesn’t even have to bear his vampire baby!
Now, please excuse me while I go watch Moonstruck or some other romance that doesn’t feel like the equivalent of drinking a nonfat vanilla fro-yo shake.
* Running time: 101 min.
* Rated: PG-13