Milquetoast Passion: Nicholas Sparks’s Tear-Stained Cheese

City Pulse | April 17, 2012
From a casting perspective, Zac Ephron is the ideal embodiment of vanilla American mediocrity to stand in as Logan, a politically ambiguous Iraq war vet who stalks a woman whose photo he finds on the battlefield. The discovery plants Logan in one spot long enough to avoid being killed by a bomb blast he otherwise would have walked into.

Based on the Nicholas Sparks novel of the same title, director Scott Hicks’s cookie-cutter adaptation possesses all the puffy passion of a typical television soap opera. The film’s gauzy opening battle scenes are so clinical as to be utterly inert. Gratuitous slow motion is part of the bargain. Logan allegedly walks from his home in Colorado to an idyllic small town in North Carolina to thank the attractive blonde lady in the picture. You can bet that if Werner Herzog shot the film, the audience would have felt every meter of that 1700-mile journey, and its effects on the character. No such evidence is available here.

Oddly, once Logan arrives at his destination he is too tongue-tied to profess his gratitude when he comes face to face with the woman he learns is named Beth (Taylor Schilling). For a “soldier” on his latest mission, Logan loses focus pretty easily. He chooses instead to go to work for Beth at her dog-training facility. Tepid dramatic conflict arises from Beth’s bullying town-sheriff ex-husband Keith (Jay R. Ferguson) who comes around frequently to borrow custody of the former couple’s young son. Keith treats Logan like a punk. The audience is left to extrapolate about Keith’s self-loathing identity as a military arm of justice here in the states where a less obvious war is percolating.

A significant problem with the source material comes from the protagonist’s lack of purpose. Nicholas Sparks has been quoted as saying Logan is in a “let’s see where life takes me phase.” Such inarticulate motivation is hardly the stuff of compelling drama. It might work for a story about an aimless teenaged kid who knows nothing of the horrors of war, but the disconnect is jarring even if the filmmakers fill in the cracks with slathering dollops of sentimental reasoning in an autumnal atmosphere. A sappy musical score by Mark Isham and Hal Lindes hits every gooey plot point like syrup splashing into a sopping pancake.

As expected, in the context of Sparks’s novels, the centerpiece of the movie is a lovemaking scene replete with water dripping from every inch of skin and clothing. At least the film’s female octogenarian target audience can enjoy a few moments of soft-core porn for their trouble.

Compared to a great author like John Irving, Nicholas Sparks is an example of everything wrong in contemporary American literature. Sparks may have gotten lucky with “The Notebook,” but “The Lucky One” seems only to refer to his status as a successful writer of romantic pap. The nuisance with aspiring to mediocrity is that even when you succeed, no one cares.

Rated PG-13. 101 mins. (D) (One Star – out of five/no halves)

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