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'The Lucky One': Zac Efron romance unlucky with most critics

April 20, 2012 |  2:11 pm

The Lucky One
The new romance "The Lucky One," starring Zac Efron as a weary Marine and Taylor Schilling as a beautiful stranger, is the latest in a line of film adaptations of Nicholas Sparks' weepy novels. (In case you've forgotten, the list includes "Dear John," "The Last Song" and most famously "The Notebook.") As is often the case with Sparks' movies and their imitators (including "The Vow" earlier this year), critics agree that "The Lucky One" is a tear-jerker best left to hard-core romance fans.

In one of the more positive reviews, the Los Angeles Times' Betsy Sharkey calls "The Lucky One" a "sweet but not too syrupy romance" and "the best Sparks-inspired film to come along since 'The Notebook.' " It's certainly not perfect: "Without much tension, the film becomes more of an extended music video of Logan and Beth's [Efron and Schilling's characters] rocky road to love," Sharkey writes. But the film is "beautifully captured by director of photography Alar Kivilo," she says, while Efron is "in his wheelhouse," Schilling is "moving," and director Scott Hicks "keeps 'The Lucky One' from turning into complete mush."

The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday is less impressed and describes the film as a "tepid, inert enterprise." "The Lucky One," she continues, is "devoid of genuine tension, conflict or combustible chemistry between its two stars," and "just prettily sits there." So does Efron, for that matter: "The role of a stoic, expressionless philosopher-soldier requires that he tamp down his natural exuberance and physical grace, a regrettable misuse of his native talents." Invoking "The Notebook," Hornaday concludes that "'The Lucky One' tries hard to re-bottle that lightning, to no avail."

Hearst film critic Amy Biancolli echoes Hornaday, writing that "there isn't much of anything going on in 'The Lucky One,' a lazy (in all ways) Nicholas Sparks romance that's as pretty and vacant as its hero." Efron's problem, Biancolli says, isn't one of ability but of execution: "I'm not saying the boy can't act (I've seen him do it). I'm saying he doesn't." Meanwhile, "Where Efron under-emotes, Schilling over-emotes, giving their scenes together an out-of-whack thespian asymmetry." The result, Biancholli says, is "all very pretty, and all very dull."

A.O. Scott, of New York Times, offers less a review of "The Lucky One" than an anatomization of the genre he refers to as "the Nicholas Sparks movie": "The setting is the coastal South … A young man and a young woman will fall in love, but there will be complications. … Desperate yearning will erupt into urgent kissing." Check, check and check. The film is directed "gracefully enough," Scott says, and Efron is "reasonably credible," but "if realism is what you’re after, you’ll do better at 'The Three Stooges.' 'The Lucky One' is where you will find death, redemption and kisses in the rain."

In the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert also tackles the Sparks formula: "They usually involve the triumph of love over adversity, are usually set in beautiful natural settings, usually involve such coincidences as finding a message in a bottle, and usually make me stir restlessly, because such escapism is shameless." Shameless or not, Ebert concedes, "credit must be given to a film that delivers the goods, and if you've ever liked a Nicholas Sparks movie, you're likely to enjoy this one."

For those averse to sudsy romances, however, expecting to enjoy this one might be pushing your luck.


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— Oliver Gettell

Photo: Taylor Schilling and Zac Efron in "The Lucky One." Credit: Alan Markfield / Warner Bros.