Prime those heartstrings as Zac Efron takes sensitive hunk duty in another tale of romantic destiny from Dear John and The Notebook author Nicholas Sparks. Efron plays Logan, a US Marine who comes across the photo of an unknown woman (Taylor Schilling) while serving in Iraq. The picture turns out to be his lucky charm. But after coming home and seeking out his guardian angel, Logan faces a fresh battle to win her heart and mind. In the hands of Shine director Scott Hicks, melodrama never looked so good.
Jay R Ferguson
Riley Thomas Stewart
Sticking to a recipe high in syrup and corn, the cookie-cutter romances of Nicholas Sparks might not sate many literary appetites. But they sure come out smelling good at the box office.
Following the eye-wateringly successful trio of The Notebook, Dear John and The Last Song, this next hit for sucrose addicts doesn't mess with the pretty-boy-meets-hung-up-girl formula.
That said, a relatively gritty opening introduces us to Efron's Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault bang in the middle of an Iraqi war zone. There he finds a picture of a lovely blonde which keeps him safe for the rest of his tour. On coming home, his next duty must clearly be to find his muse.
Remarkably, despite having no idea of where she's from or even her name, Logan manages to track her down to a leafy backwater in Louisiana before the credits have stopped rolling... and after walking from Colorado.
Where was this kid when they were looking for Bin Laden?
The lady is Beth (Schilling), a divorcee who runs a dog home with her wise granny (Blythe Danner) while bringing up her agreeably precocious young son (Riley Thomas Stewart).
Beth thinks Logan is there to answer a job ad. He doesn't tell her otherwise. Given how much awkwardness it would inevitably save, you have to ask why.
One might also wonder why Beth doesn't press him harder for answers when (1) she doesn't buy his story, (2) she is desperate to find out how her brother Drake - a US Marine - was killed in Iraq, and (2a) a year later, up strolls a US Marine - fresh from Iraq - telling her he has something to say but can't say it.
But, bright as she is, Beth never puts (2) and (2a) together. She doesn't even think to show him Drake's photo.
Anyway, honesty issues aside, Logan turns out to be everything a lonely kennel owner could want. He fixes stuff. He reads philosophy. He plays piano. He likes kids. He even has a dog. And he looks like Zac Efron. So what's the problem?
Well, that would be Beth's ex-husband Keith (Jay R. Ferguson), who is not only the town's biggest jerk but unfortunately its best-connected cop.
And so we have all the emotional kit we need for a low-impact jog through Cliché Woods, building up from gentle conflict to convenient tragedy via as much dreamily lensed rumpo as a 12 certificate will allow.
But while director Scott Hicks has undoubtedly lost his Oscar-nominated Shine in the dramatic sense, he more than makes up for in visual gloss. He even matches the weather to the prevailing mood.
Trouble is, what might persuade in a life insurance ad doesn't necessarily convince in a movie.
Happily, the characters' lack of logic and ambiguity doesn't stop the cast from engaging, with Efron and Schilling generating easy chemistry and Ferguson pulling off a neat personality switch from Mad Men to bad man.
If you're plugged into Sparks, you're in luck. Otherwise, bring a good book.