The early scenes are set in Iraq, where a Marine named Logan (Zac Efron) sees some heavy action and discovers a mysterious photograph of an unidentified woman. He believes she keeps him safe, and he determines to find her when he returns stateside.
He does find her, in the bayou country. And wouldn't you know it, Logan is unable to tell her about the photograph, at which point romance takes over, at which point the audience knows that the climax will involve some kind of awkward discovery of the photograph.
Even if the movie weren't dependent on that kind of contrived plot hitch, there's surprisingly little going on here. The woman in the picture (Taylor Schilling) comes complete with an outdoorsy kennel, an adorable son, and an equally adorable grandmother (Blythe Danner).
She also comes with an ex-husband (Jay R. Ferguson) so unpleasant and jealous he makes Billy Zane's "Titanic" role seem like a model of three-dimensional complexity.
Scott Hicks, the director who made a splash with "Shine" and has since grown soggier and soggier, does well enough by the Southern locations, which give the movie just about its only distinctive feature.
Taylor Schilling provides some liveliness as the young mother--and she has to, because the guy she's sharing the screen with appears dulled beyond his character's trauma.
You know how there are some actors with the mysterious ability to convey thought and feeling without ever seeming to do very much? Zac Efron is not one of those. The former "High School Musical" star doesn't do very much, but he doesn't convey anything, either.
He's packed on some muscle for his role here, which has the unfortunate side effect of rounding out all the definition from his face. There isn't anything to his role beyond the stoical loner, and Efron doesn't add anything to the party.
The canoodling scenes take place in the usual Sparks locations, which gives Hicks the chance to shoot the lovers snuggling in an outdoor shower or in an artfully dusty attic. And if all you're thinking about during those scenes is whether they'll catch their death of cold or have a sneezing attack, you are clearly not Nicholas Sparks material.
"The Lucky One" (1½ stars)
Another one from the Nicholas Sparks mill, this time about a returning vet (Zac Efron, inert) locating a stranger (Taylor Schilling) he saw in a photograph and setting up life with her. The bayou locations are about the only draw in this dull affair.
Rated: PG-13 for language, subject matter.
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Meridien, Oak Tree, Woodinville, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor.
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