Midway through "The Lucky One," the movie's pair of glowing lovers consider fate, the future, and the purpose of their lives.
"Do you think that life has a plan for you?" young blonde Beth (Taylor Schilling) asks her unshaven Iraq War veteran lover, Logan (Zac Efron).
"Aw jeez," he says, at which point they promptly return to gazing blankly into each other's eyes.
Viewers will find themselves with no choice but to do the same.
Based on a book by Nicholas Sparks, "The Lucky One" has a barebones story, but it is almost pathologically conflict averse. Like its young, conventionally handsome stars, it is designed to be looked at rather than engaged with. And while it sometimes styles itself as an investigation of love, destiny, and the rest of life's great romantic unknowables, it offers only mindless cliches by which to understand them. The movie's biggest mystery is how Mr. Efron keeps his mat of stubble so perfectly trimmed.
"The Lucky One" begins on the battlefield with a series of mercifully short, TV-movie quality shootouts. After surviving a deadly ambush, Logan finds a photo of a winsome young woman in a pile of bombed-out rubble. The words "keep safe," are written on the back, and although the ward obviously didn't work for its last owner, he decides to give it a go, with mixed results. Eight months later, the wallet-sized picture has become something of a good luck charm for all of his squad. We know this because a never-named squadmate tells him so: "You've got yourself a guardian angel," the anonymous soldier says, at which point he and the rest of Logan's team are promptly blown to bits.
Logan, however, survives: After all, he has a destiny to fulfill. He returns to his home in Colorado, suffers from a case of post-traumatic stress disorder so severe that the sounds of violent video games are enough to trigger intense attacks, and decides to solve his problem by walking to Louisiana to find the mysterious woman in the photo. He does. They fall for each other. There are roughly a half dozen montages, lots of cute puppy dogs on walks, and a bit of conflict involving the mean local sheriff (Jay R. Ferguson), who also happens to be Beth's ex-husband. Events unfold with the dewy glow and emotional vagueness of a particularly forgettable Hallmark commercial.
This, apparently, is how fate works: Dozens die ugly, violent deaths in a far-flung conflict so that two clothing-catalog pretty young folks can meet cute and cast longing looks at each other. "The Lucky One" is inoffensively apolitical on the subject of Iraq, but its vision of fate and romantic entanglement casts the brutality of war as an acceptable price to pay in exchange for the cheap emotional sugar high of essentially adolescent infatuation.
Even infatuation may be too strong a sentiment. What do these lovers actually share? Miss Schilling has wide eyes and a great smile. Mr. Efron has approximately two facial expressions, one of which is best described as "blank." There's no chemistry. No connection. Just a soft pop soundtrack and magic hour photography. It's hard to imagine two more boring, empty individuals. Maybe they really were meant for each other.
TITLE: "The Lucky One"
CREDITS: Directed by Scott Hicks, screenplay by Will Fetters
RATING: PG-13 for wartime violence, sexuality
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS