If you think the idea of Zac Efron playing a badass Marine in a sensitive romance sounds ridiculous, you can skip “The Lucky One.”

If you think the idea of Efron playing a badass Marine in a sensitive romance sounds, like, totally hot, you might as well see “The Lucky One.”

Frankly, this review could end right here.

But I suppose it also should be noted that “The Lucky One” — like “The Notebook,” “Dear John,” “Nights in Rodanthe” and “A Walk to Remember” before it — is based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, and plays like a straight-faced parody of everything you’d expect from a Sparks adaptation. Or a prototypical version of what people mean when they say they hate “chick flicks.”

“The Lucky One” is so devoid of originality, credibility and anything resembling cinematic vigor that you may be surprised to hear it was directed by one-time Oscar nominee Scott Hicks (“Shine”). Or maybe not, considering Hicks’ post-“Shine” efforts include forgettable hokum like “Hearts in Atlantis” and “No Reservations.”

If you can accept, or somehow appreciate, the lackluster nature of the material, “The Lucky One” isn’t an unbearable experience. At least it’s less irksome than this year’s drippy pseudo-Sparks smash “The Vow.” There’s a purity to its earnest, simple storyline: U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault (Efron) finds a photo of a beautiful stranger (Taylor Schilling) during his third tour of duty in Iraq. When he returns home, he tracks her down in Louisiana, discovers her name is Beth and begins working at her in-home dog kennel business. She has a large house and lots of land with only her grandmother (Blythe Danner) and young son (Riley Thomas Stewart) to share it.

The only things standing in the way of Logan and Beth’s inevitably perfect love are her jerk ex-husband (Jay R. Ferguson of “Mad Men”), the local deputy sheriff with a bad temper and bullying tendencies, and the contrivance that Logan doesn’t tell Beth about his discovery of the photo for a very long time. (How else will she feel betrayed and angry in the third act after they’ve already fallen deeply in love?)



Audiences will know where “The Lucky One” is heading before they even buy a ticket, and Hicks and screenwriter Will Fetters (of the equally earnest but far more self-important Robert Pattinson romance “Remember Me”) don’t bother throwing out any curveballs. The most unusual touches are all up front in the stylized and unintentionally hilarious sequences of Logan in Iraq, complete with imitation Tony Scott flourishes like the slow motion decimation of a water bottle. Everything else is a mix of bouncy musical montages, tearful revelations and relatively tasteful PG-13 love scenes (there’s some Efron butt cleavage on display and no serious skin from Schilling).

It would take preternaturally skilled performers to make the material fly, and Efron and Schilling are not at that level, at least not yet. Efron remains boxed in by his juvenile looks, his attempts at macho posturing in the honorable drifter role coming off about as manly as a “High School Musical” marathon. The largely humorless role also leaves little room for his comedic strengths to shine. Schilling (who starred in the short-lived NBC medical series “Mercy” and last year’s much-maligned literary adaptation “Atlas Shrugged: Part 1”) fares a little better at making Beth an authentic person — a high school track star whose personal dreams were deferred when she got knocked up by the big man on campus — but the limited scope of the film’s emotional terrain doesn’t exactly test her mettle.

“The Lucky One” isn’t interested in digging very deep in its lovey-dovey exploration of fate. It’s satisfied with glossy shots of majestic Louisiana locales and “adorable” scenes of Zac Efron walking dogs or bonding with a little kid. I guess some segment of the audience will be satisfied too.

“The Lucky One” opens in theaters April 20