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Taylor Schilling, left, and Zac Efron are shown in a scene from "The Lucky One," based on the book by Nicholas Sparks. (AP Photo/Warner Bros., Alan Markfield)

Date-night movies take over

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'The Lucky One'

Yet another adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, so you know exactly what you're getting walking into this thing. It's predictable and schmaltzy and sappy and smothered with voiceover that explains the film's already none-too-subtle themes of destiny and fate. And yet ... and yet. In the hands of "Shine" director Scott Hicks, it does what it needs to do to please its target audience with a certain tasteful artfulness and the comforting familiarity of a 1950s melodrama. It's utterly forgettable and offers zero surprises but it's also harmless date-night fare made more appealing by the cast of Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling and especially Blythe Danner. To put it on the spectrum of films that have sprung from the Sparks canon of weepy romance novels, it's not as good as "The Notebook" but not as bad as "Nights in Rodanthe." And it does represent the first truly grown-up performance yet from Efron, who continues to establish his post-"High School Musical" career with eclectic if not necessarily commercially successful choices. Here he plays U.S. Marine Sgt. Logan Thibault, who's just returned from his third tour in Iraq with an item he believes saved his life: a photograph of a beautiful blonde sitting in front of a lighthouse. He doesn't know whose it was or who she is but he insists on finding her. Turns out she's Beth (Schilling), a single mom who runs a sprawling dog kennel in an idyllic, small town in the Louisiana swamps. Naturally, Logan doesn't tell her why he's there for a long time, which (naturally) will serve as the obligatory misunderstanding after they've (naturally) fallen in love. PG-13 for some sexuality and violence. 101 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

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-- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

'Think Like a Man'

What is essentially a shameless and overlong infomercial for Steve Harvey's dating advice book becomes more tolerable and even enjoyable at times with the help of an attractive, likable cast. Harvey's best-seller "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man" serves as the launching pad for four intertwined stories in which various types couple up and try to make a go of it. There's The Dreamer (Michael Ealy) and The Woman Who Is Her Own Man (Taraji P. Henson), The Player (Romany Malco) and The 90-Day-Rule Girl (Meagan Good), and so on. But the ladies involved are armed with the knowledge of male romantic peculiarities that they've gleaned from the book -- Tim Story's film makes it seem as if every woman in Los Angeles carries it around all day like a Bible -- so every move they make is calculated and executed strategically to get what they want. Conversely, the men grow suspicious, find out that the book exists and turn its words back on the women as their own weapon to get what they want. Story has a way with a comic ensemble cast, having directed "Barbershop"; he keeps things moving at a (mostly) lively clip and gives LA a glossy sheen. Ealy and Henson are insanely sexy together, and stand-up comedian Kevin Hart is, unsurprisingly, a scene-stealer as the fast-talking, newly divorced guy of the bunch. But the script from Keith Merryman and David A. Newman, who also wrote "Friends With Benefits," is crammed with plot and gets bogged down with contrivances. PG-13 for sexual content, some crude humor and brief drug use. 122 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

-- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

'The Five-Year Engagement'

The problem that plagues so many Judd Apatow productions -- the one that keeps good comedies from being great ones -- unfortunately exists here, too. It's a matter of knowing when to say when, of knowing which bits should be trimmed and which should have been cut altogether. "The Five-Year Engagement" is so scattered and overlong, it really feels like it lasts five years, and even the inherent likability of stars Jason Segel and Emily Blunt cannot overcome the film's pervasive sense of strain. It becomes so tortured, it almost gets to the point where you hope these two will break up for good, just because it's the pragmatic thing to do and because it would finally wrap things up. And that's a shame, because the movie reunites Segel with Nicholas Stoller; the two also co-wrote 2008's "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," one of the more well-balanced Apatow productions, with Stoller once again directing and Segel starring as the doughy everyman. As in that earlier film, "The Five-Year Engagement" touches on themes of love found and lost in a serious way, and to its credit it does find some moments of emotional truth amid the inconsistent laughs. But man, it can be a messy slog to get to them. Segel and Blunt star as a newly engaged couple who encounter multiple obstacles on the way to the altar, including cross-country moves, career ambitions and family issues. If it sounds like a drag, that's probably because it is, and wacky supporting players including Brian Posehn and Chris Parnell don't exactly liven things up. R for sexual content and language throughout. 124 minutes. Two stars out of four.

-- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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