Dumb ‘Lucky,’ Riotous ‘Raid,’ Quirky ‘Damsels,’ Becalmed ‘Sea,’ Excessive ‘Man’


Contributing Writer


“The Lucky One”

Best-selling author Nicholas Sparks has made a small fortune writing sappy Harlequin-quality romances with a morbid streak (like “The Notebook” and “Dear John”), and “The Lucky One” (wide release), adapted by Scott Hicks, follows the template.

Zac Efron, gloomy and blank-faced, plays Logan, a Marine back from three tours in Iraq.  Believing that a snapshot of a beautiful woman he found after a firefight was his lucky charm, he searches her out and they gradually fall in love.

Their relationship is endangered, however, by her nasty ex-husband – a cop with a possessive streak – and by the fact that he can’t bring himself to tell her the truth about the photo, which she’d given to her beloved brother, who died in Iraq.

The outcome of the romance is never in doubt, but Sparks frames it in a ludicrously melodramatic last act centered on Logan, the spiteful ex, and the safety of the woman’s cute-as-a-button little boy during a flash flood.

The hero of the movie might be a lucky guy, but its viewers aren’t so fortunate.


“The Raid: Redemption”

Indonesian import “The Raid: Redemption” (wide release) is a tale of cat-and-mouse mayhem in a high-rise that makes “Die Hard” look like a walk in the park.

It’s a very simple story about a bunch of assault cops sent into a heavily-defended Jakarta building to capture or kill a crime lord who controls his empire from a command center on the top floor.  The residents – brutal thugs for the most part – eagerly respond to the boss’ invitation to wipe the intruders out.

There are wrinkles to the script, including one involving a relationship between one of the chief bad-guys and the heroic policeman who becomes the last survivor of his troupe.  But what the movie is really about is hand-to-hand combat, a series of bloody martial-arts brawls all the more exciting because they’re done without computer trickery.

There’s no depth to “The Raid,” but it’s hard to beat for slam-bang action.


“Damsels in Distress”

Writer-director Whit Stillman (“Metropolitan,” “Barcelona,” “The Last Days of Disco”) hasn’t made a movie in 14 years, but “Damsels in Distress” (Angelika) shows that his idiosyncratic, slightly absurdist touch remains intact.

It’s a college comedy, but the rare one that combines goofiness and sophistication, managing to include both a toga party and a subplot about Cathar practices.

The script centers on a gaggle of coeds who make it their mission to clean up the campus by instructing their male counterparts about personal hygiene.  But it also involves dating rituals, unusual depression-fighting therapy and a struggle over the existence of Roman-letter fraternities.

And at the close the movie turns into a musical based on a lead character’s determination to start a new dance craze.

Stillman’s peculiar pictures have always been an acquired taste, and “Damsels in Distress” will puzzle as many people as it delights.  But if you’re in tune with his gently weird wavelength, you should find it an oddball pleasure.


“The Deep Blue Sea”

British director Terence Davies specializes in beautifully photographed but brutally deliberate period pieces set in post-World War II England (“Distant Voices,” “Still Lives,” “The Long Day Closes”), and “The Deep Blue Sea” (Magnolia) follows the pattern.

It’s an adaptation of a Terence Rattigan play about the wife of a distinguished jurist who leaves him and the plush life he’s given her for a wastrel ex-fighter pilot who treats her like dirt.  The outcome is not a happy one.

Many of the images in the film are so lustrous that still shots of them would be works of art.  But the performances are almost absurdly affected, and Davies’ love of long, slow tracking shots and sequences in which characters languidly sing popular songs of the period saps energy from the story and renders the drama inert.

This “Sea” could use a few more waves and undercurrents.


“Think Like a Man”

A sort of multiple romantic comedy in which four male pals romance women who use a relationship-advice book to manipulate the men – only to have the guys respond in kind – “Think Like a Man” (wide release) is overstuffed with cliches of the genre and eventually runs out of steam.

But it boasts a game cast, and in Kevin Hart, who plays a fellow in the middle of a divorce who angrily comments on his friends’ choices, it has a sparkplug who turns several sequences – like an impromptu basketball game against some NBA stars – into stand-up-style comic highlights.

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