A shell-shocked drifter arrives in a small town and seduces a young, single mother in "The Lucky One," an adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks novel that aims for weepy and steamy but somehow ends up creepy and smutty. The overheated eroticism could have at least made for a camp classic, but the film's chilling narcissism ultimately makes for a pleasureless fantasy.
Zac Efron plays Logan, a Marine who finds a photo of a pretty girl in the rubble of Iraq and begins to believe that she is saving his life while those around him die. Returning home, he discovers that his guardian angel is Beth (Taylor Schilling, NBC's "Mercy"), who runs a dog kennel with her grandmother Ellie (Blythe Danner, ever-radiant but underused). The business isn't a moneymaker: Beth's only outfits are cutoffs and threadbare T-shirts. Moved, Logan begins working at the kennel, though without revealing his mystical mission.
Director Scott Hicks ("Shine") lights a few candles to set the mood, but he's more intent on panting in our ear. Beth goes into an erotic dishwashing trance watching Logan exert himself at manual labor; she ambushes him in a shower and removes her dripping-wet dress; the two of them straddle a chair. It's a wonder Hicks doesn't cut to a whistling teakettle.
That's all fine in a "9 1/2 Weeks" sort of way, but things turn queasy when Logan begins wooing Beth's bright, young son (Riley Thomas Stewart) and supplanting the father, Keith (an effective Jay R. Ferguson). An alcoholic cop, Keith is cast as the villain, but it's Logan who look like the interloper. It's a dour, taciturn role that doesn't suit the sparkly eyed actor.
In the end, Logan gets everything while other characters are sacrificed for his happiness. But of course he was thinking that way from the beginning. He's the lucky one, indeed.
PLOT An Iraq veteran searches for the girl in a photo that saved his life.
RATING PG-13 (some sexuality, violence)
CAST Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, Jay R. Ferguson
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE Weepy and corny can be a good thing, but creepy and smutty? Not so much.