There was the sincere hope with Charlie St. Cloud becoming a distant memory that Zac Efron, now in his mid-twenties, might have graduated from the requisite glut of slushy, ham-fisted pictures which inevitably attract good-looking young actors. After proving himself more than a pretty face with charming performances in both 17 Again and Me and Orson Welles, it is dispiriting to see Efron fall prey to the most dangerous rival of artistic expression facing young actors today: the Nicholas Sparks adaptation.
Efron stars as Sgt. Logan Thibault, a Marine who, in the wake of an intense firefight, discovers a picture of a beautiful woman lying on the ground. After failing to locate its owner, he holds onto the picture throughout his tour of duty, and credits it with keeping him alive through countless ordeals he should probably not have survived. When returning home to Louisiana, he decides to track the woman in the photo down, trekking to Colorado to find her. This woman is Beth (Taylor Schilling), who runs a dog kennel and ends up hiring Logan to help out, unaware of his true motives, while ostensibly developing feelings for him.
The creepiness of its premise notwithstanding, I sat through much of The Lucky One wondering, what if the woman in Logan’s picture were ugly? Would he still ascribe this messianic status to her? Would he still be alive? While these sorts of questions hamper emotional investment in what is already a ludicrous tale, it is still likely to be another winner for fans of Sparks’ other film adaps – The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, Dear John and so on – because the film is, for better and worse, completely, blindly in awe of its own construction. One would imagine even the most hopelessly romantic adult would struggle to buy into this unlikely love story, but hormonal teens will find this ironically more grown-up tale a lot more palatable.
Though films like this serve primarily as target practise for critics, this one, guided rather peculiarly by Shine director Scott Hicks of all people, is at least a well-acted misfire. Efron, who can chew through material like this in his sleep by now, is a likable lead despite the odd motivations of his character, portrayed convincingly as neither a spiritual awakening nor an intoxicating love-at-first-sight scenario. Schilling, unknown to most, will probably do well off the back of this role, and though her character is difficult to warm to – despite, ironically, having the most cause to be standoffish out of anyone – her chemistry with Efron is palpable enough to make the more relaxed scenes work. Major minus points, however, for the distractingly, laughably sterile sex scenes, which are directed by Hicks as though an act of self-parody (which they quite possibly are).
And that’s precisely the problem with The Lucky One; any time it strains for incident or effuse emotion, it overreaches, scripting its woes with a mechanical, soulless efficiency, doling out exposition without a shred of subtlety or delicacy. It is the scenes which in reality are probably the most redundant – of Beth and Logan casually getting to know each other – that are in fact the most effective. Particularly frustrating is the manner with which Logan withholds his big secret from Beth for so long; his silence is not conveyed in a plausible manner, we never see him try hard enough to tell her.
Therefore, drama winds up quite predictable, as the inevitable end-of-second-act confrontation occurs, and the film’s tone veers off violently into inappropriately grim territory. A late-day set piece on a rickety rope-bridge – yes, a Nicholas Sparks film has a set piece – ends with tastelessly tragic circumstances, all the more tacky because it is ushered in only to service a trite and convenient climax to the romance. Within minutes, it is forgotten that a life is lost, and everyone lives happily ever after, that is, except, for discerning audience members.
Scott Hicks lives up to his directorial plaudits in so much as delivering a visually sumptuous canvas for Sparks’ narrative, but even he cannot make sense of the absurd suspension of disbelief required to buy into this love story, and the bizarre, jolting shifts in tone. Surely we will not hear a cheesier line for the rest of this year than, “You should be kissed every day, every hour, every minute”.
The Lucky One is out in UK cinemas from today.