Zac Efron’s Smitten Marine; Kasdan’s Lovable Mutt: Movies

Taylor Schilling and Zac Efron in ``The Lucky One.'' The film is directed by Scott Hicks. Photographer: Alan Markfield/Warner Brothers via Bloomberg

Do you find Zac Efron’s head disturbingly round? It’s like a balloon perched atop a (very nice) body. He could play an emoticon.

In “The Lucky One” he’s cast as a Marine in the Iraq War who finds a photo of a beauty (Taylor Schilling), holds onto it as a good-luck charm and determines, on his return to the States, to track her down.

He’s a stalker, in other words, though the plot’s creepy undertones are never fully addressed.

He finds her living with her young son (Riley Thomas Stewart) and her wise granny (Blythe Danner) and running a kennel in Cajun country (though nobody has a trace of a Cajun accent), where he goes to work. Everyone behaves just beautifully. Even the dogs seem delighted to be boarding.

There would be no story at all without the woman’s ex-husband (Jay R. Ferguson), a redneck policeman who’s mean and armed and very tightly wound. You wait for the handsome soldier and the pretty kennel owner to discover each other and have sex, and then you wait for the crazy cop to go off. It’s a long hour and forty minutes.

The director, Scott Hicks, working from a novel by Nicholas Sparks, achieves maximum banality; this is the kind of movie for which the term “product” was invented. An abundance of golden light gives it a soft-core glow even though there’s relatively little sex.

At least the actors are appealing -- with the exception of Stewart, a little boy so conscious of his cuteness that you may want to see those dogs unleashed on him.

There’s a climax involving a stormy night, a swinging bridge and a rushing river that’s so ridiculous it’s almost worth sticking around for.

“The Lucky One,” from Warner Bros., is palying across the U.S. Rating: * (Seligman)

‘Darling Companion’

Who could begrudge the perfectly nice mutt that runs off in Lawrence Kasdan’s cloying “Darling Companion?”

Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline and Dianne Wiest head an ensemble that deserves better than this shaggy dog tale.

Written by Kasdan (“The Big Chill”) and wife Meg Kasdan, “Darling Companion” stars Keaton as Beth Winter, an empty nest mom stuck in a stale marriage to Joseph (Kline), a career-focused Denver surgeon.

Beth’s midlife blahs are lifted when she rescues an injured dog on the side of a road. She names her new pal Freeway, a moniker the Kasdans struggle to work into every third line of dialogue.

Hit the Road

During a family gathering at the Winters’s Rocky Mountain lodge, Freeway bolts while Joseph chats on his cellphone. Beth blames her ever-distracted husband for the AWOL dog.

Helping Beth and Joseph search are Joseph’s aimless sister Penny (Wiest); her slightly vulgar but big-hearted boyfriend Russell (Richard Jenkins); and her surgeon son Bryan (Mark Duplass), who disapproves of mom’s new beau.

The clan bickers and bonds while traipsing through the highlands (nicely photographed by Michael McDonough). Joining the effort is the cabin’s caretaker Carmen, a beautiful gypsy (Ayelet Zurer) who has visions of the pet’s whereabouts and intones things like “my people have a saying...”

Freeway’s fate won’t be revealed here, though you’ll surely see it coming. Any chance of thoughtfully addressing the bond between man, woman and dog stays lost in the hokum.

“Darling Companion,” from Sony Pictures Classics, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: *1/2 (Evans)

‘Citizen Gangster’

Canada’s answer to Clyde Barrow gets his own biopic with “Citizen Gangster,” director Nathan Morlando’s stylish debut feature that probably won’t convince the world that the Toronto bank robber was worth the effort.

Like Toronto’s newspaper readers of the early 1950s, Morlando and star Scott Speedman are enthralled by Edwin Boyd, the flamboyant crook whose heists and prison breaks captivated postwar Canada.

With his face grease-painted like a silent screen idol, the handsome Boyd flirted with bank tellers as he swiped their cash. Speedman gets the charm, but can’t wring much significance from the familiar crime-for-kicks saga.

“Citizen Gangster,” from IFC Films, is playing in select cities. Rating: ** (Evans)

What the Stars Mean:
**** Excellent
*** Good
** Average
* Poor
(No stars) Worthless

(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

Today’s Muse highlights include a New York Weekend Guide and a review of “Clybourne Park.”

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