Zac Efron is so sweet in the new movie "The Lucky One," you expect that, at any moment, his ultra white teeth will have a sparkle that "tings" at just the right time, and that his dreamy blue eyes will have the same animated twinkle.
Regardless of the overly predictable plot of yet another saccharine love story inspired by a dreamy Nicholas ("Dear John," "A Walk To Remember," "The Notebook") Sparks novel, Efron proves he's leading man material as Logan Thibault, a Marine sergeant who, after three tours of duty in Iraq is mentally torn and tattered. He returns suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after a series of near-death encounters. Logan believes that what saved his life was a mysterious photograph he found of a woman after the dust cleared from one of the blasts.
A stay at his sister's house proves too stressful when loud video games and toy gun play of her two boys brings out the worst of his war memories. With nothing to lose, he sets off to thank the woman in the photo that he believes kept him safe.
While the search should have been like finding a needle in a haystack, the film quickly has Logan matching the lighthouse in the background of the photo to a kennel owner in a small Louisiana town. With his German shepherd, Zeus, as a travel companion, he sets out on foot from Colorado to meet the woman. Yes, that's a long walk, but true to romance-movie form he shows up at her doorstep no worse for the wear. As you can imagine, the rest of the story begins a series of happenstance situations as Logan ends up working at the kennel and, of course, falling in love with the owner, Beth (Taylor Schilling), while never revealing the true intent of why he showed up on her doorstep.
Efron is so enjoyable to watch as he sheds his skin from former teen heartthrob to buff (he packed on 20 pounds for the role), believable military man, that the glaring holes in the plot, the cheesy music that swells at just the right times, the too cute-as-a-button casting of Beth's son, Ben (a mop top Riley Thomas Stewart ), and the absolute perfection of a too-good-to-be-true Logan (he plays the piano and can fix a broken down boat) are easy to forgive.
Schilling, whose most recognizable role is as Nurse Veronica Callahan in the 2009 NBC television series "Mercy," is less enthralling as Beth and Efron appears to be doing all the work to create a chemistry between the characters. Blythe Danner is her reliable self as Beth's grandmother, Ellie, and Jay R. Ferguson ("Mad Men") adds the element of villain as Beth's controlling deputy sheriff ex-husband, Keith, who doesn't like the new guy in town getting cozy with his former wife.
Sparks once again hangs his premise on love conquering all even in the face of much adversity. Luckily, director Scott Hicks, the man behind "Shine," "Snow Falling on Cedars" and "Hearts in Atlantis," knows how to keep things moving to make sure this sugary concoction doesn't turn to sap.
As a side note, parents who accompany Efron's fan base -- just-turned teens that want to see Disney's Troy Bolton (Efron's character in "High School Musical") -- may feel uncomfortable during a pair of particularly steamy scenes between him and Schilling, which might be a bit suggestive for those in the crowd on the younger side of PG-13. For those old enough to appreciate the passages, however, Efron does see to it that the sparks fly in these scenes.
The luckiest thing about "The Lucky One" is its leading man, but he may have fared better to debut his new brawn in a movie that had more muscle.