There’s scarcely enough substance to Scott Hicks’ cloying romantic drama The Lucky One to pad out a short poem, let alone a feature film. As a stock-standard story of love and loss, it’s of little surprise that the film is a product of the fluff factory known as Nicholas Sparks, the prolific yet formulaic novelist of swoon-fiction hits like The Notebook and A Walk To Remember. Technically, The Lucky One is Sparks’ seventh novel to be adapted to the big screen, but given how hard it is to tell each of them apart, let’s refer to it as his sixth reboot instead.
Picking up where Ryan Gosling (The Notebook), Channing Tatum (Dear John) and Liam Hemsworth (The Last Song) left off, Zac Efron (Charlie St. Cloud) plays pin-up boy Logan; the handsome, brooding and decorous war veteran with emotional scars that can only cured by the tender touch of an equally scarred, equally beautiful woman. That lucky lady is newcomer Taylor Schilling, who first catches Logan’s eye when he finds her photograph lying in the rubble of an Iraqi war zone. After pocketing the picture and narrowly surviving a subsequent bombing, her nameless face becomes his good luck charm, ultimately avowing that when he returns home, he’ll find the girl and bed thank her for saving his life.
But fate isn’t what ultimately brings them together; a string of romantic clichés and peppy pop songs do. In lieu of driving, Logan decides to walk a thousand miles — much like The Proclaimers — to find Beth, his “guardian angel” from the photo. But after deducing that the picture belonged to Beth’s brother who was KIA in Iraq, Logan struggles to tell her the truth about how he found the photo, which snowballs into the film’s laughably petty complication. In the meantime, Logan accepts a job from Beth’s grandmother Ellie (Blythe Danner; Little Fockers) to do some heavy lifting around the house, much to the chagrin of Beth’s brutish ex-husband Keith (Jay R. Ferguson; The Killer Inside Me), who threatens to take custody over their son Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart; the film’s most endearing asset).
Despite being the root cause of his fractured psyche, the treatment of Logan’s post-traumatic stress is terribly simplistic, barely factoring into Efron’s superficial performance at all. After showing promising presence and poise in Me and Orson Welles, it’s a shame to see Efron rest on his laurels once more, sleepwalking through a role that requires him to do little more than lean against doorframes and stare seductively into the camera, leaving his piercing blue eyes to do most of the talking.
But nothing is more disappointing than the fact that Adelaide’s own Scott Hicks — who nabbed the Oscar for Shine some 16 years ago — is the one behind the camera, wilfully following formula. Despite having always straddled the line between sincere drama and sappy melodrama, Hicks usually lands on the right side of that divide more often than not, particularly with his under-appreciated last outing The Boys are Back. With The Lucky One, however, he tries to find drama where there is none, and doesn’t try particularly hard at that, allowing Sparks’ too-good-to-be-true characters suck the life out of any potential conflict. The result is a mid-day telemovie at best, and an insufferably long Taylor Swift music video at worst — a pretty picture without a good story to go along with it.