Romantic should be Nicolas Sparks' middle name. Seven of his best-selling novels have been adapted for the screen, including "The Notebook," "Nights in Rodanthe," "A Walk to Remember" and "Message in a Bottle." They all involve lovers whose paths are troubled by grief, loss and redemption, as the fickle finger of fate determines their destiny.

U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault (Zac Efron) served three tours of duty in Iraq, and he credits his survival to a `lucky' photograph he picked up from the sand after a bloody skirmish with insurgents. It's of a beautiful blonde in front of a lighthouse - with `Keep safe' written on the back. After showing it to his comrades, none of whom claim ownership, Logan thinks of her as his `guardian angel' and totes the photograph back with him when he returns to his sister's home in Colorado. Still traumatized, Logan locates the lighthouse on the Internet and walks cross-country to the Louisiana bayou when it stands. Arriving in the nearby town of Hamden with his faithful German Shepherd, Zeus, he tracks down Beth (Taylor Schilling), a skeptical divorcee who lives with her adorable young son, Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart), and saucily observant grandmother (Blythe Danner). Strong and silent, he's unable to tell her about the photograph that once belonged to her deceased Marine brother. So Logan takes a job in the dog kennel Beth runs, arousing the ire of Beth's jealous ex (Jay R. Ferguson), the local deputy sheriff whose politically ambitious father is the local judge. Predictably, Logan and Beth fall in love.

With a screenplay adapted by Will Fetters, director Scott Hicks ("Shine," "Snow Falling on Cedars") introduces a brief glimpse of military action but then sets a leisurely pace for the courtship and its inevitable tensions and complications, lushly photographed by Alar Kivilo and punctuated by Mark Isham's dreamy score, as handsome Zac Efron scores as a teenage heartthrob.

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On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Lucky One" is a sappy, sentimental 6, melting like a gooey marshmallow melodrama.