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Review: 'The Lucky Ones'

In a plot full of glib contrivances, this home-front story of the Iraq war follows the lives of three returning vets.

By Peter Rainer / September 27, 2008

Michael Pena and Rachel McAdams are shown in a scene from, The Lucky Ones

James Bridges/AP

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The Iraq war has thus far produced no truly memorable dramatic movies, as opposed to documentaries, and the losing streak continues with "The Lucky Ones." Basically a home-front story, it clearly aims to do for Iraq what William Wyler's great "The Best Years of Our Lives" did for World War II. It even lifts a number of narrative threads from that film. (Let's be charitable and call it an homage.)

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Finding themselves together as they head back to the States from the battle front are Fred Cheever (Tim Robbins), who has finished his final tour of duty and eagerly looks forward to reuniting with his wife and son; T.K. Poole (Michael Peña), wounded in the groin and worried about what this will mean for his girlfriend; and Colee Dunn (Rachel McAdams), who is lugging a fallen comrade's guitar in hopes of returning it to his parents. Like T.K., she is on leave.

This is the kind of movie where everything is telegraphed for the audience. In his early scenes, for example, Fred talks so much about his adoring wife that only the dullest dullard will fail to predict the downturn in his marital straits. (No doubt Fred's last name is meant to conjure the suburban angst of John Cheever's fiction.)

Director Neil Burger and his coscreenwriter, Dirk Wittenborn, propel their road movie with a succession of glib contrivances. In one scene, our trio is having a picnic at a remote campsite. Does T.K. need to rediscover his virility? Let's introduce out of nowhere a van of kind-hearted hookers. Soon after, in order to jerk another narrative thread, a tornado appears out of nowhere and then just as mysteriously is gone. You half expect "The Lucky Ones" to slide into magical realism. (It might have been better if it had.)

About the only thing I like about this movie is its shaggy, relatively apolitical stance. Instead of setting itself up as a brief for or against the Iraq war, it just moseys along without much on its mind except how to connect the dots in the plot. In contrast to all the heavy lifting of films like "In the Valley of Elah," its lack of ambition is pleasing. But this is faint praise for a faint-hearted movie. Grade: C (Rated R for language and some sexual content.)

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