Viewing The Lucky One was a very frustrating experience.
On one hand, the story (by Will Fetters, based upon the novel by Nicholas “The Notebook” Sparks) is an often compelling tale of love, war and broken and healing hearts. On the other, however, there are so many instances where direction (by Scott Hicks, “Snow Falling on Cedars,” “Shine“) takes a back seat, characters become one-dimensional and the plot arcs out of control like a Jet Blue pilot.
It’s because of these indiscretions that I must give The Lucky One only the slightest of recommendations — and that is solely for the performances of two supporting actors, Blythe Danner (“Meet the Parents,” and a Tony Award-winner for “Butterflies Are Free”) and 9-year old Riley Thomas Stewart (“The Beaver,” “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan“).
Everyone else in this movie is on their own.
The story has Sgt. Logan Thibault (Zac Efron, “New Year’s Eve,” “Me and Orson Welles“) finding a photograph of a woman while on patrol in Afghanistan. The act of picking up the picture, however, saves his life (since a bomb then goes off on the spot he was at previously), so he tries to find the owner and somehow thank her for something she could not possibly have any control over.
Unfortunately, there is no identification on the photo (just the inscription, “Keep Safe”), so he must search not only among his fellow soldiers, but once back in the states, he must literally walk from Colorado to Louisiana in an effort to find this person.
Never mind that with no idea who she is or where she lives, this would be an impossible task, but for the sake of plot advancement, Logan runs into a guy in a small town who recognizes the picture, identifies her as Beth Clayton (Taylor Schilling, “Atlas Shrugged, Part 1,” “Mercy” TV series) and reveals where she lives.
Beth is a single mother who is raising a son, Ben (Stewart), and runs what seems like a broken-down dog kennel in the middle of the woods with her grandmother, Ellie (Danner). Logan does not reveal the purpose of his trip, so of course, she is very suspicious of a man who would walk across several states just to want a job cleaning up after dogs. We feel the same way and literally beg the screen for him to let her know why he sought her out (because we KNOW that when the secret IS finally known, it will only bring trouble later on). He still does not, but what he does do is clean up the place up, take command of the many unruly pooches, impress grandma and bond with the little boy (through chess and music).
As previously mentioned, Danner and Stewart steal every scene they are in; the former being feisty and fiery, the latter precociously cute but getting in some very funny lines every now and again.
As for the trouble, it partially comes in the form of the jealous ex-husband, Keith (Jay R. Ferguson, “Mad Men,” “Burn Notice” TV series), who is a cracker deputy sheriff and son of the town’s mayor — he doesn’t like it that there is some stranger moving in on his woman. His backwoods, one-note performance would be drop-dead hilarious if this were the sequel to “The Dukes of Hazzard,” but here it’s just embarrassing. (Even a later attempt to make Keith somewhat human falls flat on its face when his character resorts to more unnecessary threats and intimidation).
The requisite slow, budding romance then develops between Logan and Beth (she sees what a good person he is, how he cares for Ben and he protects her from her drunken ex, plus, he gets her late father’s fishing boat to run again), and soon they are in full-fledged love (with some lust thrown in to satisfy any 14-year old boy who may have wandered in).
Ah, but everything soon comes crashing down because of the secret you knew would finally come back to haunt him. And, just when we figure out what’s going on, a plot convenience device (which includes a freak storm, a flash flood, a broken bridge and a collapsing tree-house) lands like a spaceship from Mars to clear up everything.
It’s too bad that what is a fairly sweet story at its core is marred by such ridiculous situations cropping up at all the right times and a more damning love affair that ends with the leads having little or no chemistry (or much personality for that matter). Had The Lucky One broken away from the same old, tired conventions used in these kinds of pictures it could have been infinitely more successful.