The Lucky Ones



Toronto International Film Festival (Roadside Attractions)

SAN FRANCISCO -- Like prisoners who can't make it on the outside, the three soldiers who return home briefly from Iraq in Neil Burger's droll road movie, "The Lucky Ones," find they function better in the military, which makes the title an ironic commentary on the war and those fighting it. Although it doesn't overcome the genre's cliches, the film's arch humor and Tim Robbins' confident, nuanced performance hold this meandering, predictable trip together.

This moderately engaging, offbeat film requires a patience that audiences haven't demonstrated recently for stories concerning the fate of soldiers at home or abroad. It should have a limited art house run and generate minimal box office. The film opens September 26.

Cheever (Tim Robbins), T.K. (Michael Pena) and Colee (Rachel McAdams with an annoying Southern drawl) meet when their connecting flights are canceled and share a car. Cheever heads home to a wife who has moved on and a son that needs tuition for Stanford, a predicament that sets the saga in motion. T.K., the Latin lover with a groin injury, is anxious about his sexual performance while the guileless Colee discovers her boyfriend, a fellow soldier killed in Iraq, wasn't what he seemed.

The plot functions in a rudimentary fashion setting up one contrived complication after another, engendering a desire, despite a few amusing scenes and pleasant company, for the trio to arrive at their respective destinations as soon as possible. While waiting for the stock characters to hit their marks -- the initial brazen posturing followed by the revelation of hidden frailty and the inevitable bonding of unlikely people who are better for knowing each other -- one feels the cogs of the script turning. (Burger and Dirk Wittenborn wrote the screenplay.) Its topicality notwithstanding, the film feels dated, a sensation underlined by Rolfe Kent's cheesy score.

As the group passes through sterile landscapes, meeting sexually voracious fundamentalists, accommodating sex workers and a Hummer dealer, Burger and cinematographer Declan Quinn paint an outsider's vision of Americana, a land of identical McMansions and fast food joints. The journey culminates in Las Vegas, the ultimate plastic fantasyland, but not before a sudden tornado leads to T.K achieving an erection, an event the film treats as paramount to surviving a natural disaster.
Production: QED International, Overnight Productions.
Cast: Rachel McAdams, Tim Robbins, Michael Pena. Director: Neil Burger. Screenwriters: Neil Burger, Dirk Wittenborn.
Executive producers: Bill Block, Paul Hanson. Producer: Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Rick Schwartz. Director of photography: Declan Quinn. Production designer: Jan Roelfs, Leslie Pope. Music: Rolfe Kent. Costume designer: Jenny Gering. Editor: Naomi Geraghty. Rated R, 113 minutes.