by Mel Valentin
"The Lucky Ones," yet another attempt to commercialize the Iraq War, is, presumably contrary to director Neil Burger’s ("The Illusionist," "Interview with the Assassin") intentions, short on insight, long on contrivance, and overall, a disappointment from a filmmaker who showed promise with his previous effort, "The Illusionist," one of two films centered on 19th century magicians (Christopher Nolan’s "The Prestige" counts as the other, superior entry). Fast forward two centuries, Burger has decided to offer up his insights about the Iraq War through a meandering, unfocused, and ultimately contrived road film. Intentions, no matter how noble, are often insufficient to elevate a film into art, let alone a commercially viable one.In Iraq, an attack on his hummer by Iraqi insurgents leaves TK (Michael Peña) wounded. He survives relatively unscathed, but the shrapnel in his groin area leaves him temporarily impotent. Given a thirty-day leave back to the United States, TK joins Cheever (Tim Robbins), a sergeant finishing up his commitment to the army, and Colee (Rachel McAdams), a young woman injured in the leg, on the flight back to the United States. In the U.S., a series of delays leaves them stranded in New York. TK wants to go to Las Vegas before he hooks up with his fiancée. Cheever wants to return home, to St. Louis, to be reunited with his wife, Pat (Molly Hagan), and their teenage son, Scott (Mark L. Young). Not coincidentally, Colee also wants to go to Las Vegas, to visit her dead boyfriend’s parents and return his prized possession, a guitar, to them.
"And the "unlucky ones" are sitting in the audience."
After obtaining a car, TK and Colee decide to travel with Cheever to St. Louis and take a flight to Las Vegas from there. In St. Louis, however, Cheever discovers that the “happy” home he expected doesn’t exist anymore (if it ever did). His wife almost immediately asks for a divorce and his son, accepted into Stanford, informs Cheever that even with a scholarship and his savings, he’s $20,000 short. A distraught, despairing Cheever decides to travel to Salt Lake City to visit his brother. Concerned with his well-being, TK and Colee change their plans and decide to extend their road trip. Eventually, TK, Colee, and Cheever end up in Las Vegas, ostensibly for different reasons.
Sadly, Burger the director is let down hard by Burger the co-screenwriter. Burger and his screenwriting partner, Dirk Wittenborn, dip repeatedly into the bag of cheap screenwriting tips, including a series of increasingly implausible coincidences and contrivances that undermine both the characters and the war-related themes he wanted to explore in The Lucky Ones (e.g., coming home, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc.). And whatever Burger does explore through his characters experiences (i.e., the personal translated into the universal), he repeatedly squanders through his inability to create plausible, believable situations or plot turns."The Lucky Ones" is almost (key word here is “almost”) saved from mediocrity by the talented cast. Tim Robbins ("Mystic River," "The Shawshank Redemption," "Bull Durham") is as solid as ever as the ex-soldier confronting more difficulties stateside than he ever imagined. Rachel McAdams ("Red Eye," "The Notebook"), sporting an on-again, off-again Southern accent, brings conviction to a sadly underwritten role. Michael Peña, the least known actor among the three leads (he appeared most prominently in Oliver Stone’s "World Trade Center"), is almost as good as Robbins and McAdams. By turns arrogant and vulnerable, Peña helps to elevate a role that often turns on underdeveloped motivation. Robbins, McAdams, and Peña deserved better than Burger was able to give them with "The Lucky Ones." Then again, so did Burger’s audience (i.e., us).
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=17380&reviewer=402
originally posted: 09/26/08 17:00:57