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Overall Rating

Awesome: 3.7%
Worth A Look: 0%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 25.93%
Total Crap70.37%

4 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Lucky Ones, The
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by Erik Childress

"Burger Only Looks At The Iraqness"
1 stars

Someday this stupid Iraq conflict is going to end. Calling it a war is an insult to those over there and a slap-in-the-face to all the veterans who fought for something more substantial. Maybe then, just maybe, we’ll be able to have a laugh about all of it. Doubtful. I wouldn’t dare stoop to make a joke to one of the soldiers who may have watched a buddy die over there for nothing. But possibly they could. God knows they need to laugh over there to keep their sanity while the best we can do is protest their way home and then applaud when we encounter one. Neil Burger, he of the ultra-lame and unchallenging version of The Prestige known as The Illusionist, will have a tougher time justifying his new film The Lucky Ones to not just soldiers but anyone with any stake in this conflict and that includes people hoping to learn or be drawn a little closer to the experience through dramatic means. It would be nice to see all the Tropic Thunder protesters turn their signs around and find enough room to smite something worse than just bad taste.

Burger’s film opens in Iraq where TK (Michael Pena) seemingly lives up to the title when a piece of shrapnel finds his gun jacket instead of his leg. Except a more important appendage to the sex-talkin’ TK is caught in the crossfire instead and is deemed to be on temporary leave. On the plane home for temporary leave, he meets another pair of returnees. Colee (Rachel McAdams) is an upbeat Southern firecracker who doesn’t mind making jokes about crashing while onboard. Cheever (Tim Robbins) has received his ticket home for good after a severe back injury caused by a port-o-potty. When their connecting flight (can’t our soldiers even get nonstop for God’s sake) is canceled due to a city blackout, it’s road trip time for the trio with Cheever heading to St. Louis for his family and the others going to Vegas to settle some personal business.

Along the way, with any cinematic road trip scenario, it’s one encounter and adventure after another. They alternate from being thanked for their efforts overseas and openly mocked by bubbleheaded bar chicks and rich jackasses like John Heard. (He’s not playing himself to my knowledge.) Eternally chipper Colee doesn’t like to hear anything spoken ill of her dead friend and will throw down (or, at least, a soda) at the drop of an insensitive remark. TK, despite his deficiency in the male department, has tough talk for those who enlist as a way of escaping trouble on the mainland. Meanwhile, Cheever comes home to a wife (Molly Hagan) who wants a divorce, a son who wants to go to Stanford and no money to dispense for either. Good thing they’re headed to Vegas, huh?

Despite a title that suggests Cheever is headed for a solution that would impress even Starman, it’s about the one positive thing to say on your way out of The Lucky Ones that Burger doesn’t go for such an obvious and otherworldly rectification for Cheever’s problems. That is if you can even remember to say anything positive with all the unbelievably corny, obvious, point-driven but pointless scenes after horribly established and written scenes that drive the film to a conclusion that makes Stop-Loss’ denouement look poignant by comparison.

No one will begrudge not having to sit through another Iraq film that induces the horror of the experience or the metaphorical readjustments of coming home. But either you’re making that film or you’re not and to tapdance around the issues that Burger seems to be interested in and introducing them as either setups or punchlines results in the kind of laughably frustrating experience that makes you wish you had some weapons training. Cheever clearly comes home to the worst of it. A wife tired of waiting. Money issues that priceless service to America can never repay in full. Here’s a sequence though that is so poorly handled, so nonchalantly creating adversity that it makes Samuel L. Jackson’s Thanksgiving drunk scene in Home of the Brave look like the Days of Wine and Roses. Molly Hagan displays so little sense of reason or evidence of humanity that she may as well be branding a bitch tattoo and wearing a t-shirt that reads “I modeled for Neil LaBute.” She’s got a dog and has moved on. No consideration for her son (who presumably has no idea) and none for us other than some half-hearted obstacle for Cheever to do some soul-searching in the final two acts.

Oh yeah, we’re just getting started with The Lucky Ones. While quips are constantly made about Cheever being suicidal (against his strenuous insistence that he’s not), we’re on the magical erection tour of the U.S. where Colee uses her mouth for everything but what it might be good for to steer TK out of his funk. She tries churchin’ up by announcing his problem to a full congregation. There’s a car conversation along with Cheever where they discuss his options that you could put side-by-side with the teen sex guidance scene in The 40 Year-Old Virgin and not know the difference. They even come across a cadre of “female sex workers” (one of them played by the aptly named Emily Swallow) who offer to do him up for free with the thanks of a grateful nation. Despite that being a three-strike policy, Burger and co-writer Dirk Wittenborn have the four balls to deus-ex-machina-up a handy tornado to give TK liftoff, a red herring if there ever was one since the only contact we’ll ever have with his girlfriend is through a single phone conversation that is an inconsequential as any of the drama on display.

You get the sense from the early scenes that Burger might be going for the irony of safe, stateside citizens getting their do-gooder sense in check by doing what little they can to thank our men and women over there, whether by serving up a rental car or merely shaking their hand. When one of the parishoners offers them a meal and shelter, they are brought to a house that would put any of McCain’s five domains to shame but politics are mostly left off the table except in the most simplest of terms. The owner of the house celebrating his birthday in Meet Joe Black-style disappears. Is his generosity indictitive of Catholic hospitality, conservative guilt, liberal don’t ask/don’t tell or is that just the theme of the party that includes both an appearance by John Heard and then Cheever lured into an unexpected threesome with a couple providing their own definition of swing vote? The most intriguing character in the whole film is Colee’s frontline friend, whom through the course of the film we come to know single-handedly robbed a Vegas casino, saw all kinds of action in Iraq, fathered a child, abandoned the mother and turns out to be a horrible liar that his own mother admits to be a massive screw-up. Is this supposed to be an argument to bring our boys home or to make sure they stay there?

It’s impossible to ever venture a guess at what Burger and Wittenborn are reaching for with The Lucky Ones. And boy do they ever reach with what has to go down this year as the most laughable shot to come out of a dramatic film. While our trio heads down the road, who should come up next to them but an Arab family in their own car. Full Arab dress; a doppelganger of our troops with the woman riding solo in the backseat. Talk amongst yourselves what this is supposed to represent, but consider that any serious discussion is lost beyond the ham-handed moment when you realize that McAdams is also in the backseat. Maybe if Burger had ventured into a dialogue about the role of sexual politics in the military or creating Colee into someone other than a Southern-fried twit than The Lucky Ones would be headed in the right direction. But how can you fit all that in when you have hookers and threesomes and bar fights and tornados hoping to take them all to the magical land of Oz where things aren’t so black and white.

This is by no means a reaction to a film born out of politics or my thoughts towards the war. If you took Iraq out of the equation and this was just three strangers culling their resources to avoid sleeping at the airport, it would STILL be a zero-star film. Although the developments for Cheever in the final scenes would certainly make more sense even if it still did nothing to clear up the perception that armed forces recruiters are amongst the great Satanists of our time. Just as you can watch The Prestige and recognize how incredibly basic and nothing The Illusionist is, go grab In the Valley of Elah or documentaries like No End In Sight or even the Dixie Chicks film, Shut Up or Sing to see what an epic embarrassment this is. With one head-gnawing plot contrivance after another, it may think it’s the wacky Iraq version of Easy Rider but is more like this year’s Around the Bend or Diamonds.

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originally posted: 09/26/08 14:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/12/13 william stage we have this on blue ray we lovethesese movies 5 stars
1/12/09 Shaun Wallner This movie stinks!! 1 stars
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  26-Sep-2008 (R)
  DVD: 27-Jan-2009


  DVD: 27-Jan-2009

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