THE LUCKY ONE
2 stars out of 4
As a result of the three "High School Musical" flicks, Zac Efron became the world's highest profile teen idol. The trouble with being a heartthrob in a Disney franchise is, if you want a career beyond that as Efron does, not many producers or directors will likely take you seriously. The often unforgiving double-edged celebrity sword strikes again.
Likely tempted to but wisely turning down the lead in the recent "Footloose" flop remake, Efron chose instead to star in this Nicholas Sparks adaptation. Definitely better than another musical, starring in a Sparks movie is not exactly what most would consider a serious stab at legitimate dramatic acting. In Efron's case, one tiny step at a time might be the best way to go.
It helps a great deal that Efron was able to appear in that rare Sparks' adaptation where the novelists' requisite character death didn't claim one of the two romantic leads. If you feel that you've just been given too much plot detail, don't worry -- you haven't.
Sparks' assembly-line, paperback-grade novel is centered on the discomforting return home of Logan (Efron, whose character's last name is pronounced "tee-bow," like the football player), an Afghan war veteran. Logan was almost KIA but was spared when distracted by a nearby lost photo on the battlefield. Convinced that the photo saved his life, he begins a mission.
That mission would be Beth (Taylor Schilling), a divorced single mother operating a pet motel with her grandmother (Blythe Danner) on the gulf coast. Thanks to some dumb luck Internet surfing and otherworldly image comparison talents, Logan figures out where Beth lives and decides to seek her out. Logan then walks from Colorado to the gulf -- with his dog -- just because, ya know, he likes to walk. Think of him as Forrest Gump in first gear.
Determined to make the reasons for his arrival fully clear from the onset, Logan is stymied by Beth's polite small talk and her assumption he's there answering a help-wanted ad. Perplexingly silenced and unable to make his ultra-simple point, Logan (via the sagely grandmother) ultimately gets the job, decides to completely refurbish a nearby condemnable-level rental property and unfortunately makes the acquaintance of Beth's ex-husband, Keith (Jay R. Ferguson).
Keith is one of the most broadly overwritten and simplistic villains in cinematic history; at least one in a movie set in the Deep South. He sports a box crew-cut, is a cop (a job he got thanks to his politically-connected lawyer father), a racist, a likely wife-beater, an alcoholic, an ex-high-school jock and despairingly refers to Logan as "soldier-boy." The only thing Keith isn't -- as far as we can tell -- is a man that tortures animals or abuses children.
At this point -- and the movie is just about done with its first act -- all suspension of disbelief is completely eviscerated. You've got the stoic, almost saintly war veteran working with animals, a gorgeous lady in waiting with her adorable child and a bad guy that might as well be a serial killer. This isn't the usual Sparks setup but it does match his typical connect-the-dots path to a disengaging, implausible resolution.
Director Scott Hicks, the guy who wowed everyone with "Shine" some 15 or so years ago, continues his artistic descent by using lots of soft-focus, sundown-lit shots that puts the emphasis on Efron's perpetual stubble and ripped abs and Schilling's girl-next-door features. The obligatory scene showing them wrestling passionately while being drenched by an outdoor shower goes far in distracting the panting female audience from a plot that could have just as easily have been concocted by one of Efron's ravenous 14-year-old female fans.
The film escapes complete write-off status with its next-to-last scene that, while pinching heavily from both versions of "Cape Fear," also provides the production with unexpected and unintentional humor.
If it is Efron's mission to snare the attention of serious filmmakers, he needs to do what he did in the sublime "Me and Orson Welles." He's either got to take on more roles in art-house projects that aren't dependant on his looks or leads in mainstream projects where he plays an antagonist. "The Lucky One" is just an older "High School Musical" (or "Footloose") without the singing or dancing and a duller, more somber tilt. (Warner Bros.)