If I may: Jesus Christ, Zac Efron. I think The Lucky One finally, definitively proves it: he is the dullest, least charismatic of all the twentysomething kinda sorta vaguely movie stars but probably not really. Even Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, fuck, even Taylor Lautner have an easier time making the camera love them.

In The Lucky One, the seventh feature adapted from a Nicholas Sparks novel and, I am sorry to say, pretty much square in the middle, quality-wise, Efron plays Logan Thibault, an ex-Marine recently out of Iraq, sometime around the end of the 2000s. While in Iraq, Thibault found a photograph of a pretty woman half-buried in the sand (the photograph, not the woman), and became convinced over the remainder of his tour of duty that she was his lucky charm, keeping him alive even as his fellow Marines died all around. Inspired by the last words of his best friend (Robert Terrell Hayes), though he did not know at the time that they would be his last words, Thibault hunts down the location where the photograph was taken by tracking down which exact lighthouse appears in the background, and walks all the way from Colorado to Louisiana in a soul-searching trip that would undoubtedly be more interesting than the movie which follows it.

The rest of the movie plays out as a series of montages set to treacly light rock, loosely united by meandering dialogue scenes. In Louisiana, and we can tell it is Louisiana because there are two separate moments when zydeco music plays underneath all the people talking with Standard American English accents, Thibault discovers that the photograph is of a certain Beth Green (Taylor Schilling), who runs a kennel with her grandmother Ellie (Blythe Danner). He shows up merely to thank her for being his guardian angel, but a series of "hold on, the phone", "oh, are you talking about this completely different thing that I'll ramble on about?" contrivances that wouldn't have held water in a '40s farce eventually silence him, as he slowly becomes aware that slowing this weirdly scattered woman down and telling her what he wanted to tell her would prevent his movie from having a plot (this was not an issue in the book, where Thibault was driven to lie for reasons he did not himself understand at that moment, AKA his penis).

Do Thibault and Beth fall very much in love, but slowly, on account of her having a terrible history with a local deputy, Keith Clayton (Jay R. Ferguson), who continues to pop up to be a stalkery dick? Oh, they do. Does Beth's moppet of a child (Riley Thomas Stewart) cotton to Thibault's decency and potential as a family man? He does, he does. Does Zac Efron generally act sweet and charming and playful with everyone in the movie, except when he has to play his love scenes, and then he gazes at Schilling with a sort of empty stare, like he just died the exact second that the director yelled "action", and his corpse hasn't toppled over yet? In fact, that is exactly what happens, and it is one-half of the reason that The Lucky One sucks as a romantic drama, assuming that we can accuse the actors of being cumulatively everything that is wrong with the movie, while ignoring the cliché-spouting screenplay adapted by Will Fetters - whose last job at trying to get a dubious teenybopper to grow up into leading manhood was the R-Patz 9/11 hatchet job Remember Me - or the stiff, pacey direction by Scott Hicks, the manhandler of such leaden dramas as Snow Falling on Cedars and Hearts in Atlantis, or the snoozy landscape cinematography of Ala Kivilo, who renders the Lousiana woods in the same training-wheels sun-kissed aesthetic he employed in The Blind Side. I did, actually, legitimately like Mark Isham's score. It was tender and swooning without trying to clobber the viewer into feeling weepy and/or aroused.

So as I was saying: let's stick to just the actors. Efron is a vacuum: he has exactly one expression that is meant to connote every shading of romantic feeling under the sun, and it mostly looks like he neets to be rebooted, or to pound back a few espresso shots. He still qualifies as the more effective member of the romantic dyad powering the movie. Schilling, you may recall, was rocketed to a semblance of prominence as the female lead of the epic bumblefuck Atlas Shrugged: Part I, where she was called upon to play a woman who exulted in her own inability to feel feelings. She is better in The Lucky One, simply by virtue of having emotions, though it is not necessarily clear from her performance that she knows what those are. There's a certain manic cluelessness to her scenes in the first half of the movie, when Beth is unaware of her own growing feelings for Thibault, and Schilling's performance consists of widening her eyes and grinning a hollow, joyless grin, and laughing in exactly the way that you'd get if somebody was reading the stage direction "Beth laughs" out loud, without knowing in advance that it was coming. When she and Efron make out, there is a tangible uncertainty, like when an alien woman in Star Trek demanded that Kirk explain this Earth concept of "kiss" to her. I will concede that Schilling settles into the character as the movie proceeds, but it is much too late by that point to redeem anything.

Unsurprisingly - at least, I elected not to be surprised - the one element that stays above water in the whole movie is Danner, who doesn't give a "good" performance as such, but sure as hell gives a rangy one. She seems to have given up relatively early on in the process of rehearsing Nana Ellie as a consistent, credible person, and instead uses the part as a showcase: here am I, Blythe Danner, being sassy with the sex jokes! and here I am being soulful and wise! here, warm, inviting, and friendly - here, prickly and tart and self-reliant. Maybe none of this was deliberate, and it's just a lack of caring, or severe under-directing; I'd believe either one. But I sort of dig that Danner has apparently used the movie as an excuse to put together a reel for casting directors who need to find a 70ish woman who can do just about anything. Because she is awesome, and it's pretty much the only thing of value that The Lucky One actually manages to provide.