The title of The Lucky One refers to Logan Thibault (Zac Efron), an ex-Marine who narrowly survived three tours of duty in Iraq and believes he owes his life to a picture of a mysterious woman (Taylor Schilling) that he found in the aftermath of an attack. But the real lucky one is author Nicholas Sparks, who’s managed to turn his assembly-line romance novels into a wildly successful movie career, playing on essentially the same emotions of grief, honor, sacrifice and tragic romance in every story (The Lucky One is the seventh Sparks novel to be made into a movie).
Like The Notebook and Dear John, The Lucky One focuses on a veteran home from war and trying to connect with the woman he loves. In Logan’s case, he doesn’t even know the woman in the photo, although it’s remarkably easy for him to track her down in a sleepy, sun-dappled Louisiana town that embodies traditional American wholesomeness. Once there, Logan discovers that the woman in the picture is kennel-owner Beth, who had given the photo to her brother before he went off to war. Logan shows up at her doorstep intending to thank for being his inspiration to stay alive, but instead succumbs to a movie-contrivance moment and just asks for a job instead.
Since this is a Nicholas Sparks movie, obviously Logan and Beth are going to have a grand romance, which will then be followed by overwrought tragedy. Like other recent male stars of Sparks movies (Channing Tatum, Liam Hemsworth), Efron is great at being hunky but not much else, and Schilling lacks the charisma of Sparks actresses like Rachel McAdams and Amanda Seyfried. Thus Logan and Beth’s relationship feels dull and perfunctory, and Efron’s attempts at playing post-traumatic stress disorder are laughable.
The movie wraps up with a ludicrous child-in-peril climax, providing a rather undignified conclusion for Beth’s cartoonishly evil ex-husband (Jay R. Ferguson). Director Scott Hicks (Shine) brings a little restraint to the storytelling, and Blythe Danner is charming as Beth’s earthy grandmother, but their efforts are nothing compared to the unchanging (and profitable) Nicholas Sparks formula.