The Lucky Ones

September 14, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Tim Robbins, Rachel McAdams, Michael Peña
Directed by: Neil Burger (“The Illusionist”)
Written by: Neil Burger (“The Illusionist”) and Dirk Wittenborn (“Fierce People”)

Not original enough to make a pro-war statement, and too contrived to make an anti-war statement, “The Lucky Ones” seems comfortable in passing itself off as road trip flick about friendship. It’s unfortunate, however, that the screenwriter’s efforts are impractical and flat.

In “The Lucky Ones,” three U.S. soldiers, Colee (Rachel McAdams), Cheever (Tim Robbins), and T.K. (Michael Peña) meet each other in the airport when they are sent home for leave. While Colee and T.K. are deployed home for 30 days because they have sustain injuries (she’s shot in the leg and he’s nursing a shrapnel wound to his scrotum), Cheever has completed his service in the military and is looking forward to spending time with his family.

As luck would have it, their trip starts poorly when they land in New York and cannot make a connecting flight to their respective cities because of a blackout. Instead of waiting for the airport to reschedule their trips, the trio decides that it would be faster to rent a car and drive cross country to their destinations – St. Louis for Cheever and Las Vegas for the others. Colee’s  plan is to return her dead friend’s guitar to his family in hopes that she can stay with them, while T.K., who is suffering from impotence because of his below-the-belt nick, is looking for a prostitute to help him with his little problem before he goes home to his fiancée in Florida. (I guess streetwalkers don’t live in the Sunshine State).

But when Cheever gets home and finds out his wife wants a divorce and his son needs money to go to Stanford University, it only make sense that he continues traveling with T.K. and Colee to Vegas so he can win his son’s tuition playing blackjack (I guess they’ve never heard of student loans).

They are all brainless ideas that implode on paper and even more so when McAdams, Robbins, and Peña, all good actors in their own right, try to help director Neil Burger explain who military men and women are by putting a name and face on these universal characters. The problem is that Burger and writing partner Dirk Wittenborn have created a set of stories far too unbelievable to latch onto in any way.

Through their journey we never really learn what is going on inside the heads of these three soldiers or what it’s like coming home knowing the stay is only temporary. It’s obvious that Burger wants to say something about the emotional state of the soldiers once they hit American soil, but instead of connecting us to them thoughtfully, he throws too many obstacles in their way that don’t benefit the overall importance of the story. Why write a scene where Cheever locks the keys in the car when, five minutes later, they find someone to open it with a slim Jim? It feels like Burger and Wittenborn have strung together skits to form a hybrid dramedy that goes nowhere and wastes valuable time.

Michael Peña – The Lucky Ones

June 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Originally from Chicago, actor Michael Peña, who graduated from Hubbard High School, has led a successful 14-year career in Hollywood. From starring in a number of Academy Award-worthy films like “Crash,” “Million Dollar Baby,” and “Babel,” to working alongside industry icons like Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood, and Oliver Stone, Peña has created his own path to stardom and continues to be one of the most sought after Latino actors working today.

Currently, Peña stars in the film “The Lucky Ones” alongside Oscar winner Tim Robbins (“Mystic River”) and Rachel McAdams (“The Notebook”). In the film he plays T.K. Poole, a solider sent home from Iraq after suffering a painful and embarrassing injury during an ambush.

Along with his film, Peña is also celebrating the birth of his first child (a son named Roman) with his wife Brie. During a phone interview with me, he talked about the politics of his new movie and how luck has played a small part in his life.

You play a different kind of soldier in “The Lucky Ones” than you did in your last film “Lions for Lambs.” How did you approach this role?

It’s a totally different character with a totally different mindset. One is a guy who thinks he knows it all and the other is a guy who knows he has more to learn. I don’t think this movie has a lot to do with war to be honest. It’s more of a drama. In “Lions” I was in more of an action sequence.

The film may not be about war, but do you think it has political undertones?

I don’t think so. It does have people coming back from the war, but it doesn’t have anything to say about the war. It doesn’t have anything to say about Iraq. I think it has more humor than any political statements.

I read somewhere that the word Iraq isn’t said once in the film.

Exactly. I don’t think you have to. I don’t think you have to beat a dead horse especially since you know what war they’re coming from.

Did you talk to any soldiers before making this film?

I usually like interviewing people before I start a movie but it was hard to find anyone that had the misfortune of getting shot in [the groin] area. I basically just relied on the script and create the character based on that.

Your character’s name is T.K. Poole, so I’m assuming it wasn’t necessarily written for a Latino actor. How do you feel when you land roles like this in comparison to roles that were written for a Latino?

I don’t think it matters either way. I just think it’s cool that I’m Latino and I’m doing a role like this that is true to the character. I think if there are any more Latinos in the limelight I back them 100 percent.

Do you believe in luck?

The most real thing for me is that luck comes with hard work. You have to be in a position to be lucky.

Would you consider yourself lucky with the success you’ve had in your film career?

Sort of. I mean, it wasn’t an easy life in all honesty. I definitely struggled from time to time. There was a time I lived in a van and lived in a studio apartment for four years in New York. But I still worked hard. So, when it came time for a big break I was sure to take it.

What have you learned about yourself as an actor since breaking out in films like “Crash” and “World Trade Center?”

That I don’t know everything. That’s the one thing that I found out. You come into this [industry] saying, ‘All I got to do is this and this and that,’ but it’s a little more complicated than you think it is. It’s like a pitcher who pitches 90 mph and all of a sudden they ask him to throw a curve ball and it takes him years to learn how to throw that kind of pitch. There’s always more to learn.