Nicholas Sparks is a brand name. He’s the author of mawkish, bestselling romantic novels that Hollywood keeps turning into even worse mawkish, romantic films, several of which have scored at the box office.
The list includes “The Notebook,” by far the best and most successful of the lot, as well as “Message in a Bottle,” “Nights at Rodanthe,” “A Walk to Remember,” “Dear John” and “The Last Song.”
The latest novel of his to arrive on the big screen is “The Lucky One.” A slack and predictable love story, which takes place mostly in rural Louisiana, it is the filmic equivalent of trudging through syrupy sorghum.
Zach Efron, continuing his attempt to transition into grownup roles, plays Logan, who is a typically sensitive but hurting Sparks hero. An ex-Marine left feeling psychologically shaky after three tours of duty in Iraq, Logan is determined to track down the young blonde woman whose picture he found in the rubble, lost by another American soldier, after a deadly explosion in Iraq.
He manages to locate her–she’s Beth (Taylor Schilling, of TV’s “Mercy”), a divorced mom with a seven-year-old son (Riley Thomas Stewart)–but before he can tell her about the photo, she hires him to be a handyman at the dog kennel she runs in partnership with her grandmother (Blythe Danner).
These two preternaturally attractive folk fall for each other though Logan, of course, still hasn’t told her about the picture. Meanwhile, her possessive ex-husband (J.R. Ferguson, of TV’s “Mad Men”), a law man with a father who is a powerful local judge, keeps coming round and threatening to cause trouble.
Director Scott Hicks (“Shine) moves the story along in a deliberate, count-out-the-beats kind of way. It doesn’t help that the film’s characters are no more fully drawn or distinctive than those found in a generic made-for-TV movie.
Efron mostly plays a gentle nice guy here; if there are deep wells of post-war psychological torment and anguish to Logan, the actor barely communicates them. Schilling occasionally suggests that Beth might have a little steel in her but is called upon to spend most of the movie simply gazing at Efron either longingly or lustfully–sometimes both.
Teen girls and young women, the primary intended audience for this film, will doubtless find it moving. That’s the great advantage to being young. Movies like “Lucky One” can seem original and heartfelt–it’s manifestly neither–when you haven’t already seen similar tripe way too many times.