The Lucky One ***

Penned by the author who gave us the equally schmaltzy Dear John, The Last Song and The Notebook, The Lucky One is another pubescent girl’s wet dream, starring former Disney poster boy Zac Efron no doubt. It’s the kind of predictable romance-by-the-numbers that young girls can swoon over and mature females – who ought no better – can daydream about. It’s Mills and Boon, Louisiana style – with a softer ‘remember our fighting heroes’ message tagged on.

A super buffed Efron plays US Marine Logan who, after serving three tours in Iraq, goes on a journey back home to Louisiana to search for the unknown woman pictured in a photo he found in the rubble. He believes this woman was his good luck charm. Dog-loving Logan finds blonde ‘angel’ Beth (Taylor Schilling) running a dog sanctuary with her fun-loving gran, Ellie (Blythe Danner), but cannot bring himself to tell her why he is really there. After accepting a job, the initially reluctant Beth starts falling for Logan (and vice versa), who helps her young son overcome his performing shyness while protecting Beth from her abusive ex (Jay R. Ferguson as Keith). When tragedy strikes the family, Logan proves he’s a hero once more, but can he reveal his dark secret.

Put simply: Efron fans will be sent into overdrive. Here’s predicting Efron-mania. Who cares how dopey the film is; if you didn’t have the Efron bug before, the chances are you will appreciate his effect after this as he adopts the classic, contemporary ‘knight in shining armour’ role, complete with a body to chew on. Efron does little worthy ‘acting’ in this, short of spending the entire time walking with a stiff upper back, military style, and gazing dreamily with those baby blues at the prize. Even his ‘reveal’ is understated and rather irrelevant, as we all know what the outcome will be.

The only ‘surprise’ director Scott Hicks’ film offers is an introduction to little known US TV star Schilling who is tasked with carrying all the dramatic moments and reacting throughout the whole film. She gets some nice moments to bounce off Danner’s breezy charm too, but is the busy female protagonist that moulds the story and drives it forward.

The Lucky One is easy on the eye and the brain, a popcorn-munching romance for those tired of comic-book superheroes at the cinema, and those wanting a real man in a uniform to sweep them off their feet. Old-fashioned romance to the core, Hicks’ film will win no film-making accolades, but will do neither of its attractive leads any harm in the notoriety stakes either.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Paul – 4*

If the thought of yet another PeggFrost offering turns the stomach, click away now. Paul is the pair’s ultimate geek-worshipping buddy flick, with a little help from fellow US nerd Seth Rogen, voicing Paul. It all sounds distinctly ‘non-Valentine’, the decisive anti-date movie. But if a little bromance, escapism and a good consistency of chuckles will get your beloved in the mood, don’t dismiss this alternative Cupid’s arrow on face value.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost played two sci-fi fans, Graeme and Clive, who having visited the geek’s wet dream, the Comic-Con convention in San Diego, USA, set off in a rented Winnebago to explore the legendary route of UFO crash sites of Area 51. What they don’t vouch for is coming across their very own, real McCoy, dope-smoking alien Paul. Hence, begins a frantic and action-packed journey to reunite Paul with his kind in a woodland meeting place, not too dissimilar to the finale of E.T. – minus the BMX bikes.

Pegg and Frost simply geek out with references to a whole number of sci-fi classics, like one great big homage for the genre’s fans everywhere, but without going overboard and way over the heads of those just wanting a bit of light entertain. They even bring on board Alien Queen, Sigourney Weaver, as the Federal boss lady (a voice off-camera until the end), who sadly gives up her iconic line, “Get away from her, you bitch”, to another character in the film. That said the lads’ rapport is not quite on a par with their previous hits, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz that nicely bat the quips back and forth with a healthy doss of irony, and the result is watery imitation with this film. But the addition of Rogen as Paul certainly makes up for a comical and enjoyable threesome that deflects attention away from the pair’s less-than-risqué, better-keep-the-studio-happy gags.

Admittedly, there was a moment of scepticism when our two Brit nerds narrowly avoid a pile-up with an out-of-control car on a deserted mid-West road, and we all meet Paul for the first time. Initially, Rogen’s docile tones seem a tad unconvincing – as does Pegg’s eye-line with the CGI character. However, thanks to co-star Joe Lo Truglio – who plays equally geeky Special Agent O’Reilly in this – lending a hand, physically, as ‘Paul’ on set, things in the effects department do improve. Paul is outrageously outspoken, like an alien frat boy, but also acutely aware in any given situation that he finds his friends and himself in of what’s at stake, and looking like the stereotypical alien image we all know (parodied in the film), makes it very easy for us to fall for him as a Noughties-style E.T. Plus there’s a personal favourite Marmite gag.

Whatever Pegg and Frost say about the very premise of the film being about extraterrestrial life, therefore, instantly challenging the Creationist’s view point, this film has a distinctly anti-religious jibe to it that cannot be dismissed as an inevitable R-rated expectation with such a comedy. With the entrance of pro-Creationist Ruth Buggs, played by Kristen Wiig, the comedy treads a fine line, especially when Buggs goes into cursing overdrive, as though this will ‘free’ her from her faith-bound chains. It will thrill some, coupled with Paul’s ‘Evolve this’ t-shirt, and be deemed childish and lazy writing by others, use to a better calibre of script from Pegg and Frost. Still, Wiig delivers her comic timing with great aplomb, demonstrating she has star quality in the making.

Pro-evolution debate aside for now, which is “kind of a buzz kill”, on the whole, Paul beams feel-good fun, cheekiness and carefree spirit. So, if Portman has scared you off watching her in her latest romcom, No Strings Attached, that’s also out on February 14th, after her turn as an unhinged ballerina, Paul offers a highly entertaining, albeit juvenile-humoured alternative to the usual loved-up pulp.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer


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Meet The Parents: Little Fockers – 3*

In-laws or ‘out-laws’, whatever you want to call them, are what make the silly season so interesting – and quite often volatile. So, releasing yet another in the Meet The Parents series seems like ideal pre-Christmas viewing, before spending enforced time with your own. We can all relate to the tight-lipped niceties and time-bomb tension, hence, Little Fockers, the third film in this 10-year saga, should tick all the boxes, right?

Well, to a certain extent, yes, but like an annoying relative who insists on repeating the same old, tired joke that dried up along with last year’s turkey, Little Fockers still (desperately) goes for laughs with its naughty-sounding surname gag. This time it’s taken to new Mafioso-heights with the promise of downtrodden son-in-law Gaylord Focker (Ben Stiller) becoming the ‘Godfocker’ (groan) of controlling patriarch Jack Byrnes’ (Robert De Niro) empire in his demise.

That’s really the plot, the whole plot, and nothing but the plot, give or take a few sub-plots and odd peppering of supporting actors – like a greasy-haired and tattooed Harvey Keitel as a brash foreman for starters (pray, why?). The attractive poster mix of A-Listers that includes De Niro, Owen Wilson, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner, Teri Polo and Jessica Alba never really comes to the boil, and the child puke jokes and early penile discoveries feel as awkward as the actors having to dish them out for the hard-of-seeing.

The real stars of the second film, Hoffman and Streisand, are virtually frittered away, here, making sporadic appearances in this film, and coming in at the last minute to almost ‘save the day’ at the twins’ party. You could have forgiven their lacklustre usage, had the film-makers dared to be different with a promising role-reversal element to Focker and Byrnes at the start, with Focker getting a little power-crazed with his own young family, after getting the call from Byrnes that should change his family dynamic for life.

Sadly, director Paul Weitz and co. revert to two-dimensionality again, with new addition Alba being the worst culprit as incredibly perky and annoyingly enthusiastic drug rep Andi Garcia (another cringeworthy pun that has to be spelt out), but really not letting us get past the fact that it’s just near-naked Alba looking stunning again and showing off her trim figure. Well, at least that’s a thumbs-up for the boys, whilst the girls can all curse at reaching for that last mince pie.

That said, the reason for Little Fockers’ guaranteed interest at the box office is, like Christmas, we may tire of some of its elements, but it’s hard not to get into the spirit of it, in all its panto glory. This time of year is all about pulp-style films with frustratingly amicable characters like Alba as Garcia and Stiller as Focker. We love to watch a fool, especially a fool with flaws; it’s as much of a draw as picking at the leftover turkey. It still brings a smile to the face and a few chuckles, and we know it’s wrong to continue contributing financially to it – especially with the unashamedly obvious hint of a fourth film at the end – but we just can’t help ourselves.

Therefore, Little Fockers offers nothing new, just a bunch of nostalgic old/rehashed that, if being completely honest, isn’t really offensive pre-Christmas viewing, and it may get you through out-law nightmares with a secret smile on the big day.

3/5 stars

By L G-K