Lucky Ones, The

Add “The Lucky Ones” to the growing list of disappointing political films about the Iraq War, but don't blame the public for lack of sensitivity or open-mindedness to current issues.

Neil Burger, who showed some promise in his previous effort, the elegant, magic-driven saga “The Illusionist,” has written (with Dirk Wittenborn) and helmed a contrived, rather predictable melodrama that goes out of its way to be human and humorous, but lacks genuine feelings for its triangle of characters that come across as banal, and narrowly defined, each by a single issue sure to be resolved by the end of the sentimental yarn.

“The Lucky Ones” world-premiered at the 2008 Toronto Film Fest (in the Gala Presentations section) to indifferent response from many critics. Lionsgate, which made the film, and Roadside Productions, which distributes it, on September 26, should have very modest expectations as far as commercial appeal is concerned.

The premise of “The Lucky Ones” (not a very good title for what Burger is trying to accomplish) is quite generic: When three very different U.S. soldiers find themselves on an unplanned road trip across America, they form a deep bond that may be the closest thing any of them has to a real, biological family.

Can you trust a political film that dares not mention the Iraq War even once in the text Reportedly, Burger thought that it would work better as a generic road-trip film and not a war film grounded in specific reality. Didn't Burger learn any lessons from the failure of “Grace Is Gone,” a tedious Iraq War film that was also structured as a sentimental road flick, centering on John Cusack as a grieving dad, who needs to convey some painful truths to his two young daughters.

For a while the presence of gifted and handsome stars, such as Rachel McAdams (“The Notebook”), Tim Robbins (“Mystic River”) and Michael Pe?±a (“Crash”), helps cover the glaring weaknesses of the film. Watching Pena, we are reminded of his appearance in Oliver Stone's 9/11 film, “World Trade Center,” which was not very good either. The film's main novelty is the inclusion of a major female character, equal to her male counterparts, but is it enough these days

In the first scene, T.K. Poole (Pe?±a), Colee Dunn (McAdams) and Cheever (Robbins) arrive in New York from Germany only to realize that their connecting flights had been canceled due to a power outage. Anxious to get to their various destinations, they agree to share a rented minivan to suburban St. Louis, where Cheever plans to reunite with his wife and teenage son.

From there, the other two members plan to fly to Las Vegas where T.K. wants to make an important stop before seeing his fianc?©e, Colee plans to pay a visit to the family of a dear fallen fellow-soldier.

Melodrama kicks in heavy-handed manner, when Cheever’s homecoming turns out vastly different from what he anticipated. Inexplicably, his wife wants a divorce, and then his son proudly announces that he's been accepted to Ivy League Stanford University, and needs $20,000 very soon.

The trio¬ís one-day drive expands into an impromptu cross-country marathon, during which we learn that the embarrassed T.K. can't get it up and needs some penis treatment before his fianc?©e finds out, and that Colee is on a mission to bring the guitar of her deceased friend, Randy, to his parents and his wife, little does she know that they were clueless about his musical inclinations.

Rest of the tale unfolds as a typical road movie, with all the requisite subplots and “adventures,” such as encounters with eccentrics, self-discoveries, and revelations of past events. Hence, along way, they get involved in barroom brawls that are meant to be hilarious (but are not), an upscale dance that leads to wild, loud sex of Cheever with a married femme, which is interrupted when her hubby comes home, and a bizarre Sunday morning church service.

The most frustrating thing about the film is its central revelatory realization, namely, that home is not quite what they had remembered before the war, and that their newly formed bonds and unanticipated companionships matter to them much more than kinship.

The happy ending, with all three in Vegas before opting to enlist for another tour of duty, is so fake, sentimental, and contrived that you feel embarrassed for the actors, none of whom gives a decent performance, not even the usually reliable Tim Robbins.

Visually, “The Lucky Ones” displays a different, more realistic approach than the stylishly elegant mode that Burger used in “The Illusionist,” a picture that despite some narrative problems was more successful and effective. Choice of music is also routine, and it doesn't help that the choppy movie overextends its welcome by at least 20 minutes.

Earnest to a fault, “The Lucky Ones” comes across as a bargain basement “The Best Years of Our Lives,” William Wyler's 1946 masterpiece about the adjustment problems of a trio of WWII soldiers.


Colee – Rachel McAdams
Cheaver – Tim Robbins
TK CQ – Michael Pena
Jeanie Klinger – Annie Corley
Tom Klinger – John Diehl
Bob – John Heard
Pat Cheaver – Molly Hagan
Pastor Nolan – Spencer Garrett
Barbara Tilson – Arden Myrin
Janet – Katherine LaNasa
Army Psychologist – Kirk B.R. Woller


A Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions release of a Lionsgate and QED Intl. presentation of a Koppelman & Levien and Overnight production.
Produced by Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Rick Schwartz, Neil Burger.
Executive producers: Bill Block, Paul Hanson, Elliot Ferwerda, Brian McCormack, Marina Grasic, Jan Korbelin.
Co-producer: Glenn Stewart.
Directed by Neil Burger.
Screenplay: Neil Burger Dirk Wittenborn.
Camera: Declan Quinn.
Editor: Naomi Geraghty.
Music: Rolfe Kent.
Production designer: Leslie Pope.
Set decorator: Tanja Deshida.
Costume designer: Jenny Gering.
Sound: Stacy Brownrigg; supervising sound editor, Lewis Goldstein; re-recording mixers, Dominick Tavella, Lewis Goldstein.
MPAA Rating: R.
Running time: 112 Minutes.