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Back from Iraq in 'Lucky Ones'

September 26, 2008|Michael Phillips | Chicago Tribune

A good film, one of a handful of dramatically viable and necessary features to emerge from America's occupation of Iraq, came out of the Toronto film festival earlier this month.

Unfortunately, it wasn't "The Lucky Ones." It was Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker," scheduled for a 2009 release. "The Lucky Ones" is softer and more seriocomic, hewing to the genres of the home-front picture and the road movie. Rachel McAdams, Tim Robbins and Michael Pena portray three soldiers back in the States from their respective tours of duty in Iraq. They meet on the plane home from Germany. Colee (McAdams) has a leg injury and an irrepressibly optimistic soul; her destination is Las Vegas, where she plans to deliver the treasured guitar of her late boyfriend to the boyfriend's parents. T.K. (Pena), also bound for the West, is coping with a shrapnel wound which has left him sexually dysfunctional, an issue he'd like to clear up before reuniting with his girlfriend.

The father figure is played by Robbins, eager to get back to his family and civilian life. Right away you feel director and co-writer Neil Burger struggling to arrange all the narrative furniture. Circumstances contrive to get these three to share a rental car from New York to St. Louis. Circumstances contrive to bring Colee, at a tavern, face to face with the most venal young women on the planet, who mock her injury, malign her service and then pow!, right on cue, she belts one of them in an awkward rabble-rousing moment.

Five seconds after Robbins' character arrives home with his newfound pals, his wife is telling him the marriage is over. And so it goes. Burger has made two very intriguing pictures prior to "The Lucky Ones": "Interview With the Assassin" and "The Illusionist." Toss "The Lucky Ones" in with those two, and you have three very different projects stylistically and narratively, united only by Burger's facility with actors. Although Robbins may be miscast (nothing in his demeanor suggests any sort of military man), in the scenes on the road, he works up a comfortable rhythm with his fellow performers. McAdams in particular finds some intriguing nooks and crannies beneath her character's sunny exterior.

But the film itself, which has everything from erection jokes to a computer-generated tornado, comes down to a battle between the interpreters and a screenplay riddled with convenience, cliche and well-meaning contrivance.


"The Lucky Ones." MPAA rating: R for language and some sexual content. Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes. In general release.

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