When you stop and think about it, few film genres require more of a suspension of disbelief than the road picture. Sure, it might not seem like that, especially when you consider how much science fiction and horror films ask audiences to suspend their disbelief. But the road picture grounds itself within a cinematic "real world" that audiences are supposed to relate to as if it were true. But as anyone who has ever been on a road trip can tell you, such journeys are seldom the metaphors for life punctuated with wild and amazing adventures that are depicted in films. In real life, a road trip is usually just driving in a car from one place to another, with a few stops along the way, and maybe a flat tire or an over-heated engine to spice things up. A film, however, with driving from one point to another (even with a flat tire along the way), probably wouldn't be all that interesting, which is why the road picture incorporates plot devices that ask the audiences to accept everything from the implausible to the contrived to the predictable. And all the implausibility, contrivances and predictability that are conventions of the genre are found in abundance in The Lucky Ones.
Tim Robbins, Michael Peņa and Rachel McAdams co-star as three soldiers in the Iraq War who meet by chance on a plane bound for the United States. Having finished his tour of duty after an injury that required back surgery, Fred Cheever (Robbins) is returning home to his family in St. Louis. T.K. Poole (Peņa) and Colee Dunn (McAdams) are both enjoying a thirty-day leave after sustaining injuries on the battlefield, and for their own separate reasons, are heading to Las Vegas. Upon arriving in New York City, all three soldiers learn that a recent blackout has delayed all outbound flights by two days. Cheever decides to rent a car to drive home and T.K. and Colee decide to tag along, figuring they can catch a flight out of St. Louis more quickly than New York. This of course sets into motion an adventure for the trio that will cause them to bond, face their individual inner demons, and make life-altering decisions.
The Lucky Ones starts out strong in the first act, introducing characters that are engaging enough and a plot that is interesting enough that it is easy to overlook how ridiculous the film actually becomes as it rolls into the second act with our three heroes westward bound. In fact, the whole thing is so engaging that you're likely to either miss of simply forgive how ridiculous the entire film is. But make no mistake, because it is ridiculous.
Things start to get contrived when the group arrives in St. Louis, and within minutes of being home, Cheever's wife tells him she wants a divorce. Still reeling from that, he then learns that his son has been accepted in Stanford, and he must come up with $20,000 for tuition. And then, as he sits in a diner with T.K. and Colee, trying to figure out how his life could have become so screwed up, Cheever finds out he has lost his stateside job. Wow. When it rains it pours. And speaking of pouring rain, there is a scene that finds T.K. and Colee driving into the heart of brutal mid-west storm, and actually seeking refugee in a drainage pipe as a tornado passes overhead. It's moments like those--and nearly every other moment in the second and third act--that makes The Lucky Ones such a tricky movie.
While you're watching The Lucky Ones, it is thoroughly entertaining, and seems like a great film. But a few minutes after the final credits roll, and you start to really think about it, things begin to unravel. Ultimately, the film makes simplistic light of three very complex individuals suffering serious consequences of being in war. All three characters are facing problems related to both their personal lives, as well as their physical and emotional well being. But the complexities of these problems are distilled and made into little more than set-ups for a series of jokes throughout the story. T.K. suffers from impotence after suffering nerve damage from taking a piece of shrapnel in the groin, but his condition and the consequences of it are more of a joke than a jumping off point for any sort of real discourse. The same is true for the disintegration of Cheever's life outside the Army, and the personal mission that has brought Colee to Las Vegas. It's almost as if director and co-writer Neil Burger wanted to make a Hal Ashby film, couldn't quite figure out how to do it, but managed to fake it none the less.
Despite all of the things that work against The Lucky Ones after it is over, while it is playing, the film never ceases to be engaging. This is due in no small part to the performances of Robbins, Peņa and McAdams, who bring their own charm and charisma to the screen, and create a genuine chemistry that propels the movie forward. It is easy to believe that Cheever, Colee and T.K. are three complete strangers who come to care about the well-being of each other, not because the script makes it believable, but because the actors do. This is an example of caring about the characters to such an extent that the inherent weaknesses and flaws in the script are either not noticeable, or largely forgiven. All of this is to say that The Lucky Ones is a decent, entertaining movie that resembles a great movie, even though it isn't as good as it initially appears to be.