Watching “The Lucky One” is like catching “Saturday Night Live” hosted by a professional athlete. Chances are the athlete is handsome and talented, but he or she looks lost attempting sketch humor.
The same sense of displacement happens with Zac Efron in “The Lucky One.” The former teen heartthrob broods his heart out in the latest love story from author Nicholas Sparks (“The Notebook”). The role demands an actor of consequence, the kind who can speak volumes with just a glance, a smile, or even a shrug of the shoulders.
Efron simply takes up space. The “High School Musical” standout can’t convey the tormented inner life of the main character, dooming an already flawed romance.
The young actor plays Logan, a Marine on his third tour of duty in Iraq. Logan narrowly escapes a deadly bomb blast when he stoops to pick up a snapshot of a woman he notices lying on the ground. This anonymous beauty saved his life, and he decides to thank her personally as soon as he goes home.
He miraculously finds her by stumbling into the right bar and showing her picture to the right patron, the kind of convoluted plot divot “The Lucky One” demands to keep its story alive. The woman in the photograph is Beth (“Atlas Shrugged” standout Taylor Schilling), a stunner who runs a North Carolina dog kennel.
Did we mention Logan walked from Colorado to North Carolina to find her? A fine, but potentially dangerous drinking game would ensue should you take a slug whenever you roll your eyes during the film.
Before Logan can explain why he showed up on Beth’s doorstep, she assumes he’s there to apply for the dog walking/scrubbing/handyman position she advertised.
Cue another eye roll.
Logan takes the gig and proceeds to show Beth and her saintly grandma (Blythe Danner) why he’s the perfect match for any single gal. He fixes engines large and small, plays the piano, loves philosophy (and Dr. Seuss), is as lean as a personal trainer and is unfailingly polite.
Even by romantic movie standards he’s ridiculously overqualified. But will that be enough for Beth, whose fear of commitment comes from her abusive ex husband (Jay R. Ferguson)?
“The Lucky One” stacks up the hackneyed story elements while we wait … and wait … for Logan and Beth to acknowledge their mutual attraction. And oh, what a letdown that is. Efron and Schilling have very little chemistry, although Schilling appears to hold up her end of the bargain. She swoons at all the right moments, but Efron seems incapable of letting the story’s emotions wash over him. Or even trickle across his newly acquired stubble.
Their first kiss is as awkward as two prom attendees who settled for their third choice rather than miss the big dance.
Eventually, the lack of depth afforded both characters catches up to the film, and by the time we reach the overwrought finale we’re longing for Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams from “The Notebook” to reappear for another rain-soaked kiss.
“The Lucky One,” to its credit, doesn’t trot out the usual anti-military tropes. In fact, Logan’s service is treated with respect. Too bad the filmmakers introduce his post traumatic stress disorder early on only to ignore it the rest of the way.
Ferguson’s character keeps the film alive despite his cartoonish qualities, and it’s hard to imagine the movie existing without him. You know you’re supposed to root for Efron’s character over the evil ex, but at least Ferguson brings fire and passion to the screen. Poor Efron supplies a newly buff physique, those beaming blue eyes and virtually nothing else to “The Lucky One.”