JUST in case you wondered: women still gasp when Zac Efron appears on screen, and so they might.
The Lucky One (12A)
Director: Scott Hicks
Running time: 101 minutes
Partly because Efron has buffed up massively since his days as the pipsqueak heartthrob of the High School Musical series, but also because The Lucky One is such a drippy adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks bestseller, with fate, soft-focus sexiness and sunsets blended into a romantic confection that makes The Princess Diaries look like Last Tango In Paris.
Efron plays soulful Marine Logan Thibault, who loves dogs, long walks, even longer thousand-mile stares, and lifting heavy stuff in front of awe-struck women. At the start of the picture, he’s on patrol in Iraq when he spots a photograph of a blonde smiling woman in the rubble. As he goes to pick it up, a bomb explodes on the spot where he has just been standing,
At least twice, this photo saves his life, so when he returns home to Colorado after three tours of duty, he decides to trace the mystery woman to thank her. Guided only by a distinctive lighthouse in the background of the photograph, he finally narrows the location down to Louisiana, and strikes out in that direction with his German shepherd, even though he’s 1,000 miles and several states away.
“I like to walk,” says Logan. But not to think, apparently, because only when he arrives at the door of Beth (Taylor Schilling) does Logan realise that stalking beautiful ladies to their homes is the kind of obsessive behaviour that makes you the lead in a crime novel rather than a romance.
Fortunately, before he can speak up, Logan is hired by Beth’s grandma to help run their kennel business and bond with Beth’s curly-haired tyke of a son (Riley Thomas Stewart). Granny is tart-tongued, waxes wise about romance and is played by Blythe Danner. In a movie this predictable, you already know that if she’d been more sweary, they would have cast Betty White.
Unfortunately The Lucky One never hits such heights of asperity because director Scott Hicks is 16 years and a truckful of treacle away from the days when he made scrappy, vital Oscar winners like Shine. In that picture, he got Geoffrey Rush to bounce exuberantly, and half-naked on a trampoline. Now he’s made a film so decorous that even the dogs get gauzy, golden backlighting.
Fortunately, Beth has an evil ex, the town sheriff Keith (Mad Men’s Jay R Ferguson), who is keen to get back with Beth and is the only southern man in movie history who thinks it’s funny to take the mickey out of war veterans. Keith looks and acts like Biff from Back To The Future, but at least he shakes things up a bit. Regrettably then, he’s not around when Efron tells Schilling that she needs to be kissed “every day, every hour, every minute”. It’s a line that is supposed to confirm that Logan is every woman’s dreamboat, but really – does any woman desire that kind of friction overload? Imagine the chapping. Nor does it help that Efron and Schilling only seem to make for a sexy couple if you currently own a High School Musical lunchbox.
In the end, you can only whistle admiringly at the shameless way this film doles out its clichés and conventions, whilst reflecting that The Lucky One is as blunt a title as calling your film Piranha 3DD or We Bought A Zoo. But be assured: the luck is not yours.
• On general release from Wednesday