The Lucky One" Rated PG- 13. At the AMC Loews Boston Common, Regal Fenway Stadium, Harvard Square Theater and suburban theaters: B-
In "The Lucky One," chick-lit author extraordinaire Nicholas Sparks and director Scott Hicks ("Shine," "No Reservations") trot out all the Sparks tricks: the cliche-clogged voice-overs, heartland setting, troubled--boy-meets-complicated-girl plot, PG-13 sex scenes, golden-hued imagery and dogs.
Zac Efron and Wayland's own Taylor Schilling are the leads. He's Logan Thibault, a 25-year-old Marine sergeant just returned from three tours of duty in the Middle East and suffering from border-line post-traumatic stress disorder.
On the field of combat, Logan found a photo of a woman he didn't know, a woman he came to believe was his "guardian angel." Back home in Colorado, where his young nephews' violent video games freak him out, Logan determines to go forth with his trusty German shepherd and find that mystery woman.
Schilling ("Atlas Shrugged: Part 1") is the woman, Beth Clayton-Green, beautiful co-owner of Green Kennels, a Louisiana doggie hotel, with her comically dotty mother (Blythe Danner), who sings in the local choir. Beth is also an elementary schoolteacher on leave with a cherubic 7-year-old son Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart) in dire need of a father figure who isn't the biggest jerk since "First Blood."
Ben's actual father is bullying local policeman Keith Clayton (a glowering Jay R. Ferguson of "Mad Men"). Keith's father (Adam LeFevre) is a local judge running for mayor. Keith uses his clout to terrorize Beth and threaten to take full custody of Ben if her behavior displeases him. What do you think he thinks of her romance with the mysterious, hunky ex-Marine she hires as a helper?
Yes, you will not be the only one waiting for Logan, who's reading "Moby-Dick" in his spare time, to go all Rambo, if not Ahab, on bullying cop Keith. But no such luck.
While Efron and Schilling are no Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling ("The Notebook," 2004), they are arguably superior to Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried ("Dear John," 2010).
The dialogue and plot twists are occasionally risible, including a scene in which Beth goes crazy with grief for her deceased soldier brother and one in which aspiring violinist Ben and (surprise) talented pianist Logan duet at a church service attended by the whole town. A power outage gives Sparks and Hicks the chance to lift a scene from "Witness" (1985). "The Lucky One" also boasts one of the most hilarious third-act plot twists I've seen in quite a while. But the actors are attractive and sincere, and former teen idol Efron makes another compelling case for himself as an adult male lead. One big break and this guy could be the new Tom Cruise.
("The Lucky One" contains profanity, threats of violence and a soaking wet, PG-13 sex scene.)
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