The Lucky Ones

  The Lucky Ones
  Tim Robbins, Rachel McAdams

  3 out of 5 stars
  Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

Road trip!

Although this may sound contradictory, "The Lucky Ones" is an uplifting movie about getting shot to pieces, going home to find out your once stable home life has crumbled, picking up the pieces, and learning how to grown from your mistakes.

When a blackout forces the cancellation of all flights out of New York City,  recently discharged Iraqi war veteran Sergeant Fred Cheaver (consummate everyman Tim Robbins), agrees to share a ride home with fellow soldiers Sergeant T.K. Poole (Michael Pena, compelling in 2006's "World Trade Center"), and Colee Dunn (annoying but endearing Rachel McAdams). Although they come from diverse backgrounds, the soldiers share the bond of having been wounded in the service of the country, as well as a common compulsion to return to the shelter of a secure home. Instead of rediscovering their pasts, the three comrades wind up taking a journey of self-discovery that impacts their futures. Among their many discoveries: Don't turn around to talk to someone in the back seat when you're driving; don't wait until your naked and compromised to ask someone where their spouse is, and don't assume your dead horn dog boyfriend was a saint.

Poole received his 30-day ticket home when he was wounded in the "upper thigh." (It would have been too ironic if he played a private wounded in his private parts.) T.K. is confident, the man with a plan, and according to everyone else, he's one of the luckiest guys on the planet. Guess so - the shrapnel that wounded him should have killed him, but most of it lodged in the rifle standing by his side. When the trio has an accident in their rented van, a metal rod slams though the window and into the seat inches away from T.K.'s head. Yep, T.K.'s lucky, but he doesn't feel blessed. He's on his way to see his fiancé, but is concerned his little general won't be able to salute, and there's no plan or scheme that can save him from that embarrassment.

Colee Dunn is a naive trailer park grunt with a heart of gold, a mountaineer's sense of devotion to faith, and the temperament of a bantamweight boxer. Wounded in the leg, Colee's life was saved by her lover, Randy, who gave his life for her. Colee's on a mission to return Randy's most prized possession to his family, a rare acoustic guitar once owned by Elvis that's worth more than $20,000. She's deluded herself into believing if she returns the guitar, Randy's parents will adopt her.
Tired warhorse Fred Cheaver is finished with his tour of duty in Iraq. Unlike T.K. and Colee, he wasn't wounded in action:

Cheaver: A port-a-john fell on me.
Colee: Was it full?
Cheaver: No. I loved that port-a-john because it saved my life. A week after it fell on me my unit was shipped out and got shot to pieces. If I have another kid I'm gonna name Port-a-John Cheever.
A realist, Cheaver's seemingly attainable plan is pick up his family life where he left off two years earlier. But his wife (a bravo cameo by versatile character actress Molly Hagan), flips Cheaver's world upside when she announces she's moved on and wants a divorce. His loving son has received an invitation to a prestigious college, but is short $20,000 for tuition. The collapse of Cheaver's American dream puts him back on the road to Las Vegas with T.K. and Colee. He intends to win the money his son needs at the tables, but doesn't have T.K.'s skill or Colee's blind faith.

Robbins, Pena and McAdams are in nearly every scene together. They're able to make the audience believe that these three incompatible characters can not only get along, but grow and change in the process. Robbins is an expert at playing uncomfortable put upon types, and Pena is believable as the slick T.K. McAdams has the difficult task of playing a redneck innocent who yaks nonstop. She's particularly irritating in the early going, but at least manages to make Colee a sympathetic simp.

Whenever the story gets too claustrophobic, a recognizable character actor pops up to prop up the action. Molly Hagen (Sue Singer in "Unfabulous," Herman's sensitive side in "Herman's Head") is solid resolve and determination as Pat Cheaver, who's outgrown her husband. John Heard ("Home Alone," "In the Line of Fire") spits venom and frustration in his cameo as "Bob," a party-goer angered over the stagnancy and waste of  the Iraq war. John Diehl (Detective Larry Zito in "Miami Vice") and Anne Corley (a familiar face on "Law and Order") play Randy's parents, and Howard Platt (Officer Hoppy Hopkins on "Sanford and Son") is the anti-Bob, a church-going businessman so appreciative of the soldiers he invites them back to his sprawling mansion to celebrate his birthday.   

Neil Burger and Dirk Wittenborn's script is rife with predictable predicaments -- while picnicking in a deserted park with Cheaver, Colee convinces T.K. that it's time to test his damaged equipment and magically, an R.V. of experienced courtesans shows up; Cheaver, on near suicide watch, meets a gorgeous woman at a party who finds him irresistible; and Colee happens to have something in her possession that can solve Cheaver's financial dilemma. Because most of the action takes place in a van, the actors are given the opportunity to provide more soliloquies than a Shakespearian play, which helps backfill their character's lives. It's nothing you haven't seen or heard before, but the plot moves along at a pleasurable pace and ties all the characters bothersome problems up in a neat bow.     

You're In Luck, There's Extras...

The extras may not be bountiful, but "A Look Inside The Lucky Ones" is like a pleasant hotel stay after an arduous road trip. Writers Burger, Wittenborn and producer Rick Schwartz discuss the actor's ability to populate their characters; "You want to cast the person who is the person; Rachel was breezy, Michael is good at things, at improving himself, and Tim is sort of a paternal character." The actors expand on the idea of the film's message of self-discovery and growth. "It's about real people, about a certain amount of tragedy," says Robbins. "But it also deals with the indestructible spirit of compassion."

You'll also get to see the nifty trick director Burger employed to make it look like the cast members were really operating their van. I wouldn't have liked to explain where the driver was if they'd been stopped by the cops...

If you're fortunate enough to have 115 minutes to spare, then you'll find "The Lucky Ones" to be a pleasant theatrical version of a feel good made for TV movie.



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