The Lucky One is a clever name for a piece of cinematic detritus so foul that it embarrasses the earlier work of Zac Efron, which includes both the Disney Channel's High School Musical series and Charlie St. Cloud. Who, precisely, is "lucky" in this film? Is it Efron's character, Logan, a Marine who serves three tours in Iraq and witnesses an untold number of his comrades die before the opening credits roll? Is it single mother Beth (Taylor Schilling), whose beloved brother was one of those fallen comrades? Maybe Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart), Beth's son, is lucky, despite the fact that his parents are divorced, his dad is an abusive alcoholic, his uncle's dead and his granny (Blythe Danner), who supports him, recently suffered a stroke.

Oh, I know what the answer is! The lucky one is Nicholas Sparks, that sage of a writer who (allegedly) penned the novel upon which this film is based. Only a very lucky person indeed could pull off a successful career as a novelist even after adaptations of A Walk to Remember, Dear John and The Last Song hit theaters. But sometimes a writer doesn't need to maintain a consistent level of quality to stay afloat — he just needs one, big title to establish his brand. For Sparks, that was his first novel, The Notebook, which got turned into a chick flick so satisfyingly formulaic that it became the new standard of quality for the genre, making Sparks the standard-bearer.

And so here we are with The Lucky One, which even after a generously optimistic viewing will still wash away all a critic's attempts to anchor himself with some faint praise or an admission of bias. No, really, The Lucky One is that insufferable. Efron is not only not believable as ex-military; he seems to have lost his ability to be charming and surprising onscreen. This was, after all, his "method" role, for which he packed 25 pounds of muscle onto his light frame and grew out his stubble.

Efron also hung out with real marines to observe their staunchly masculine lack of behavioral tics — a lack he imitates with such awkwardness that you begin to hunger for nearly any other actor in the role. Matthew McConaughey could've done it. Girls still like him, don't they? Heck, even Ryan Phillipe — or either of the Hemsworths. But Efron's God-given talents to shake his hips and bat his eyelashes are wasted, cruelly, on Logan's prolonged, idiotic, blank stare.

Schilling (TV's Mercy) has the opposite problem. Beth's emotional swings from put-together to glued-together to busting-apart-in-all-directions all read like an under-trained TV actress trying to tell a story, in every scene, in what is obviously her first lead movie role — and her last, if there's any justice in Hollywood. Beth, a substitute teacher, ought to come across a bit smarter, I think — a bit more wizened to the ways of the world, given the unlucky way it has treated her. Reese Witherspoon, if she sees this film, will hopefully give Schilling a call and provide her with a few tips.

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