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The Unlucky One

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Sparks adaptation overwrought, underdeveloped

There are few writers out there who have mastered the art of emotional manipulation quite like Nicholas Sparks. And Hollywood has taken notice, adapting seven of his books to the big screen. He's responsible for such tearjerkers as 'A Walk To Remember,' 'Dear John,' 'Message in a Bottle' and of course, the Sparksiest of them all, 'The Notebook.' Number seven just hit the big screen with the opening of 'The Lucky One.'

Logan Thibeault (Zac Efron, 'The Lorax') is a Marine sergeant serving in Iraq. One day while standing guard, he catches a glimpse of something half buried in the sand. He goes to retrieve it; it turns out to be a laminated picture of a woman. As he looks at it, a rocket attack hits precisely where he had just been standing. From then on, Logan views it as a sort of lucky charm.

When he gets out of the service, Logan is determined to track down the woman from the photo. His journey takes him from Colorado to Louisiana, where he finally finds Beth Green (Taylor Schilling, 'Atlas Shrugged: Part I'). She runs a pet boarding kennel along with her grandmother Ellie (Blythe Danner, 'What's Your Number?'). When Logan arrives, he intends to tell Beth about the picture but instead gets swept into the idyllic small-town life of the Greens.

However, Beth's ex-husband Keith (Jay R. Ferguson, 'The Killer Inside Me') has some questions about this mysterious stranger who has become enmeshed in the life of not only his ex-wife but that of his son Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart, 'The Beaver'). Keith's controlling and suspicious nature leads to a number of confrontations especially when Beth begins to fall for Logan.

It's typical Sparks. The male lead is a too-good-to-be-true romantic, while the woman has a preexisting relationship with which she is still entwined. There are all manner of obstacles to be overcome for the new love to truly bloom. And the whole shebang is simply dripping with emotional manipulation.

Unfortunately, unlike with some of the other Sparks film adaptations, the performances here simply aren't strong enough to overcome the story's flaws. Efron seems like a nice enough kid, but this ain't 'High School Musical' anymore. This is big-boy acting and frankly, Efron just doesn't have the chops to pull off 'brooding stranger.' Schilling is sweet enough, but she doesn't bring a whole lot of depth to a character who should be having complex feelings. Danner does good work, though she doesn't have much to sink her teeth into, while Ferguson is an odd two-dimensional amalgam of uninteresting archetypes he's a small-town cop, a bullier of women and a child of privilege, yet he still manages to be boring.

There are some engaging moments, of course. As melodramatic as it is, this film is emotionally charged. There's no avoiding some reaction to that emotion, even if you know you're being manipulated. However, there's no changing the fact that there are four separate scenes devoted solely to close-ups of Efron and Schilling kissing. Seriously; 10 minutes of the film is made of nothing but slowly rising music and smoochy faces.

'The Lucky One' isn't a particularly good film. The story is lacking and the performances are weak. Aside from a few overt attempts at pushing emotional buttons (all with a ring of falsity), there's just not much here.

Truthfully, the real 'lucky one' is someone who avoids seeing this movie altogether.

1 out of 5

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