If you've ever read a book by Nicholas Sparks or seen a movie adaptation of any of his works, you know the formula. Sparks is a romance writer who struck it big in the literary world with "The Notebook" and followed it up with over a dozen more romantic novels with the same basic outline. On film, Hollywood has adapted for the screen not only "The Notebook" (2004) but "Message in a Bottle" (1999), "A Walk to Remember" (2002), "Nights in Rodanthe" (2008), "Dear John" (2010), "The Last Song" (2010), and the subject of our review today, "The Lucky One" (2012).
The "lucky one" of the movie's title would appear to be one or more of the actors, actresses, and filmmakers who made the movie and were paid up-front for their services, not anyone in a home or theater audience. The movie follows the Sparks formula so precisely, you could write out every detail of the plot just from watching the trailer.
In this one, Zac Efron plays a Marine. OK, right there you get a bit of a stretch. I keep seeing him in all those "High School Musical" pictures. When we meet him, his character, Logan, is in his third tour of duty in Iraq when during an engagement he finds a photograph on the ground, a photograph of a beautiful young woman he's never seen before. What are the odds? Moments later, an explosion almost kills him, but doesn't. He credits the photograph for saving his life and carries it with him through several additional close calls, thinking of it as a lucky token.
When his service is up and he returns to the States, he becomes obsessed with finding the woman in the picture. He wants to thank her for saving his life. Apparently, he is traumatized by war and needs to find himself by finding the woman. Or some such thing. But he has no idea who she is or where she lives, and he has no way to locate her except possibly by identifying a lighthouse in the photo. Thus does he set off on foot from his home in Colorado to find her...in Louisiana. On foot. With his dog. He says he likes to walk. What are the odds?
And what do you mean, Does he find her? He locates her in the first few minutes of the story. This is romantic fiction, after all; or more like romantic fantasy. Questions: Would he have tried tracking her down so intently if she wasn't so pretty? Does he have all the money in the world to traipse across the country with no visible means of support? What does he expect to do when he does find her, beyond saying "Thanks"? Could he find her any more quickly, one unfamiliar face among three-hundred-million faces in the U.S.? When he does find her, could she be any prettier? Could she live in a more picture-perfect house in a more idyllic rural setting? What are the odds?
Quick edits, shaky cams, extreme close-ups, slow-motion, filtered lighting, and long, lingering pans of the countryside abound. Director Scott Hicks ("Shine," "Snow Falling on Cedars," "Hearts in Atlantis," "No Reservations") uses the full bag of tricks.
When Logan finds the dream girl of his photograph, Beth (Taylor Schilling), she's not only pretty, she's about Logan's age, and she's single. Moreover, you remember Logan's dog? Beth runs a kennel for dogs. What are the odds?
Logan introduces himself to Beth but can't bring himself to tell her that he has been stalking her ever since leaving the service. Why? Because otherwise we wouldn't have a plot. Instead, he takes a job at the kennels and rents a little house nearby.
However, this is a Nicholas Sparks story, not a fairy tale, so the characters need to have a slew of additional obstacles to overcome before they can fall in love and possibly live happily ever after. In this case, Beth lives with her grandmother, Ellie (Blythe Danner), and Beth's eight-year-old son, Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart). Why do all child actors these days have three names? Worse, Beth's jealous ex-husband, Keith (Jay R. Ferguson), a Neanderthal county sheriff, hangs around bullying her. Kind of a serious impediment to any new relationship, you know? And have I mentioned death? Sure, this is a Nicholas Sparks story. You can't get by without somebody dying. What are the odds?
Well, you get the idea. Blythe Danner is the only actor in the movie who is halfway appealing or even persuasive in her role. The two leads develop virtually no chemistry. Mark Isham's drippy background music surges behind every melodramatic plot point, which seems like about every two minutes. When the music isn't surging, it's just lingering innocuously in the shadows. Cue the radiant sunsets and cotton-candy clouds.
"The Lucky One" hasn't a compelling character or a solid lead in sight. Every scene, every action, every shot is calculated to elicit a tear. It's like reading an endless series of Hallmark cards, and it moves at the speed of Southern molasses on a winter day. Except that in this movie it's almost always a bright, sunny day. Almost. When the plot thickens and things look most dire, a storm breaks out. What are the odds?
Longest movie I ever sat through.
As is their usual wont, the Warner video engineers use only a single-layer BD25 in their transfer of the 2.40:1 ratio movie to high-definition Blu-ray, with an MPEG-4 codec handling the compression duties. The PQ isn't bad, but it's little more than average at best. Colors are fine, except that facial hues are often too dark. Definition varies from scene to scene, sometimes from shot to shot, most often a little soft, especially in close-ups.
Light, romantic music, the occasional peal of thunder and patter of rain for dramatic effect, and dialogue, plenty of dialogue, make up the soundtrack. To reproduce it at its best, WB use lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, which works fine. A light, ambient musical bloom drifts gently over into the surrounds from time to time, and voices are natural enough.
The primary extras are three brief featurettes. The first is "Zac Efron Becomes a Marine," six minutes on the actor's preparation for the role. The second is "Watch the Sparks Fly: The Romantic World of The Lucky One," six minutes in which Efron tells us "The Lucky One" was his favorite book. What are the odds? And the third featurette is "Zac and Taylor's Amazing Chemistry," five minutes. Take it all with a grain of salt.
Next, we find eleven scene selections; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages; French, Spanish, Portuguese, and other subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
Finally, because this is a Combo Pack, we get the movie in high definition on Blu-ray and in standard definition on DVD and UltraViolet (the UltraViolet offer expiring August 28, 2014). The two discs come packaged in a flimsy BD Eco-case, further enclosed by a light-cardboard slipcover.
Of all the movies based on Nicholas Sparks novels, I've now seen five of them and liked exactly one, "The Notebook." As for "The Lucky One," it's probably the weakest of the lot, a wholly improbable yet entirely predictable love story of the gushiest, most-maudlin kind. Is it any worse than a routine Lifetime Channel movie? What are the odds?