Film Reviews: Tuesday, September 23, 2008
The Lucky Ones
Starring Rachel McAdams, Michael Peña, and Tim Robbins. Directed by Neil Burger. Written by Neil Burger and Dirk Wittenborn. Rated R.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Leave Taking

Aren’t we The Lucky Ones? This military road-trip comedy is a charmer.

By KRISTIAN LIN

I’m not going to call The Lucky Ones the best Iraq war drama yet, because if I do, people will stampede for the exits. Also, only the first two minutes or so take place in Iraq, and this movie is not a drama but rather a light comedy, and a winning one at that.
The film begins with reservist Fred Cheaver (Tim Robbins), Sgt. T.K. Poole (Michael Peña), and Pvt. Colee Dunn (Rachel McAdams) all taking the same flight from Germany to New York City to enjoy 30 days of leave. Upon landing, they find their connecting flights zapped by a power outage, but they’re able to continue traveling thanks to a sympathetic rental agent who rents them his last car. Originally they plan to drive as far as St. Louis to see Cheaver’s family, but when his wife drops the bombshell on him that she wants a divorce, the three extend their journey all the way to Las Vegas.
The title obviously refers to the fact that these soldiers are all still alive, though they’ve all been physically wounded. However, the title also refers to a theme of luck that runs – not always subtly —through this story, surfacing in everything from Cheaver’s half-baked plan to gamble his way out of a financial jam to T.K.’s narrow escape from being impaled in a car accident. The story comes from filmmaker Neil Burger (The Illusionist) and novelist Dirk Wittenborn (Fierce People), and they don’t do so well resolving the plotlines, from T.K. toying with the idea of not going back and Cheaver fretting over paying for his son’s tuition to Stanford — has he never heard of student loans? The soldiers’ strained interactions with civilians are subjected to particularly clumsy handling, like Colee’s altercation with some cretinous Iowa State coeds who make fun of her limp.
However, the filmmakers keep the tone blessedly light and create more than enough funny incidents to carry us over these bad patches — check the farcical sequence wherein Cheaver tries to bed a woman at a party in a Kansas City mansion. The three lead actors do flawless ensemble work, with the under-appreciated Peña holding his own with his more famous co-stars. The real star turn belongs to McAdams, giving the funniest performance of her career as a warmhearted Southern girl with no filter. Colee can be counted on to freely share any embarrassing information about herself or her comrades; her chattiness wins friends for her whether she’s talking to churchgoers or sex workers. Many actresses would shine in such a part, but McAdams brings a demureness to the role that makes it all the funnier when Colee advises T.K. (who’s been wounded in the genitals and has trouble getting aroused) on oral sex, vibrators, and three-ways. She runs off with this movie.
What’s refreshing about The Lucky Ones is that it doesn’t portray its soldiers as either noble warrior gods or dysfunctional suffering martyrs, but rather as ordinary people doing an unpleasant job. That’s what gives the ending its emotional pop as these characters ship back to Iraq, and makes this quiet film a more powerful — not to mention funnier — tribute to their heroism than any number of Toby Keith songs.


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