The Lucky One, the latest Sparks novel to reach the screen, displays most of the hallmarks of Sparks's re-heated romanticism in a story that focuses on an apparently accidental event that brings two people together.
These Sparks-inspired movies -- and The Lucky One is no exception -- are the dramatic equivalent of elevator music, melding pretty pictures with the kind of soulless drama that allows audiences to guess each line of dialog before a character even recites it. Some people like these carefully packaged, easy-on-the-eyes love stories, which also seem to require the presence of an actor with cred in the hunk department. I'm not a fan.
In this case, Zac Efron plays Logan, a combat-weary Marine who returns from Iraq with a case of post-trauamatic jitters. After a little research, Logan and his faithful German shepherd walk (yes, I said walk) from Colorado to Louisiana to look for a woman (Taylor Schilling) in photograph he found on a bombed-out Iraqi battlefield. He finds her running a small business that boards and grooms dogs.
Logan's about to explain about the snapshot, but Schilling's Beth is focused on something else, and he can't bring himself to tell the story anyway. Instead, he takes a job at the kennel, where he quickly endears himself to the woman's young son (Reily Thomas Stewart) and to her grandmother (Blythe Danner).
Beth is slower to warm to Logan, but we know that she'll eventually fall for him. We also know that there will be obstacles, the principal one arriving in the person of Beth's bullying ex-husband (Jay R. Ferguson), who also happens to be the local sheriff.
And then there's Logan's looming secret about the photograph, which leads to a scene that's supposed to threaten to knock the characters off their pre-determined tracks. We know better: No one in movie such as this gets knocked off his or her tracks.
As the mysterious stranger, Efron gives a minimalist performance, which is a kind way of saying he makes an actor like Channing Tatum, who also has appeared in an adaptation of a novel by Sparks, look expressive. Schilling brings more life to her role, but this is the kind of movie in which acting comes awfully close to posing. Maybe that makes sense. The characters in The Lucky One don't really have relationships; they romp through montages.
Director Scott Hicks, who hasn't exactly been breaking new ground since he came to international notice in 1996 with the much-accalimed Shine, opts to follow the Sparks formula, which means that even Louisiana's fetid, swampy waters emit a lustrous, romantic glow.
Lively, attractive cast brings life to formulaic Think Like a Man
Harvey's book of strategic advice for women isn't exactly a natural source for big-screen entertainment, so don't expect miracles.
Worse yet, the movie seems designed to sell even more copies of Act Like a Lady by making constant references to it or having characters read it while prominently displaying the cover. There's even an appearance by Harvey himself.
One more caveat: Think Like a Man is little more than a glorified sitcom, but it's made tolerable by an attractive cast that manages to add humanity to what amounts to a fantasy set in the world of bright, mostly successful black professionals with a few white folks around the movie's fringes.
I don't know about Harvey's book, but the movie seems to take aim at a thirty-something audience that believes in a post-racial world that we'd all like to believe has arrived -- even if we're not entirely sure it has.
A lavishly appealing cast includes: Meagan Good as Maya, a woman who decides to invoke Harvey's 90-day rule: No sex with a new suitor until three months have passed; Taraji P. Henson as Lauren, a CEO who's skeptical about the Harvey approach, and Regina Hall as a single mom who tries to woo a mama's boy (Terrence J) away from his domineering mother.
The guys, who convene at a small gym for basketball and chat, include Romany Malco, as a budding composer and the movie's resident "play-ah," and Kevin Hart, as the movie's source of comic relief. Jerry Ferrra, familiar from HBO's Entourage where he played the often hapless Turtle, fares better here as an indecisive young man who has the good fortune to be living with Kristen (Gabrielle Union). Fans of this kind of movie will be treated to a self-referential cameo from a slightly older veteran of similar fare, Morris Chesetnut.
I laughed a few times and found the general vibe to be pleasant enough in a movie that at least isn't out to convince us that it's anything more than date-night fluff.