Of all the movies about the current Iraq war, good or bad, passionate or indifferent, "The Lucky Ones" is the only one to embrace "daft."
This all-over-the-place road-picture dramedy puts three wounded GIs in a minivan and takes them to a bar and a church, through a car wreck and a tornado, dealing with each other's "issues" willy-nilly along the way. It's something of a well-intentioned mess.
Tim Robbins plays Cheever, the cynical Army reserve sergeant on his way home to his wife and son and suburban St. Louis life after a long tour and a back injury. Rachel McAdams is Colee, the limping, drawling and way-too-chatty country girl-private delivering a dead comrade's treasured guitar to his surviving relatives.
Michael Pena plays T.K., the luckiest one of all. He was hit by shrapnel, but the M-16 in his lap absorbed most of the blow. Not all of it, though. He has sexual-dysfunction worries.
Circumstances keep them from flying. So they share a car and trek cross-country, sharing bits and pieces of their secrets, their stories, their hopes and their vulnerabilities. T.K. has a list of plans, sure that his "leadership" skills will translate to a good civilian job, sure that his officer-girlfriend back home is his future.
Colee is the credulous one, serving up her dead comrade's far-fetched story about his "Elvis" guitar and living in a kind of naive, trusting dream world that comes into full flower when they drop in on a laying-on-hands church. She keeps blurting out, "I wish I had my weapon," but we're kind of glad she doesn't.
Cheever has real reservations about the war and the military, and seriously under-scripted problems with his wife, which keep him in the car for the entire trip from New York to Las Vegas.
Director Neil Burger did the superb period piece "The Illusionist," and he co-wrote this with Dirk Wittenborn ("Fierce People"). That could be the reason the film feels like some sort of tug of war between something serious about war, relationships and luck, and a lark of a road picture. "Lucky Ones"' multiple personalities play out in its cliched prejudices snobby college girls disrespect the pretty soldier with the limp; mega-church Christians embrace faith, troubled strangers and misguided foreign policy in the same breath.
The episodes our trio experience are a glib grab bag of road picture tropes. They lock the keys in the car and a helpful, patriotic but irony-impaired Humvee salesman fixes them up. T.K.'s sexual problem might be solved by some traveling "sex workers" they run across in a desert park.
As an earnest if confused overview of a split-personality nation, "The Lucky Ones" almost works. But the gambling metaphor (they're Vegas bound), the unmotivated actions and unsatisfying conclusion to this home-front war picture leave you with an empty feeling. Rack this one next to the all-but-unreleased "Home of the Brave" at your video store. And expect to wait a few more years before Iraq becomes funny enough to be a subject of comedy.
"The Lucky Ones" is rated R for language and some sexual content. Running time: 108 minutes.