THE LUCKY ONE (12A, 100 mins) ** Starring Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, Jay R Ferguson, Riley Thomas Stewart, Blythe Danner, Adam LeFevre. Director: Scott Hicks

Based on a book by Nicholas Sparks, who also penned The Notebook and Dear John, The Lucky One follows a similar template – hunky guy, beautiful girl, deathly spectre of war – to chronicle the efforts of a battle-hardened Marine (Efron) to track down the divorced mom (Schilling), whose photograph literally saved his life behind enemy lines.

Director Scott Hicks bows down at the altar of Efron.

His camera stares dreamily into the actor’s blue eyes as they sparkle with tears and marvels at every inch of his bulked-up frame during a gratuitous and protracted sex scene, which begins with the two of them fully clothed in an outdoor shower and then moves slowly into the softly-lit bedroom.

Clearly, the leading man intends to keep edging away from his squeaky clean, wholesome image as a teen idol in High School Musical.

During a tour of duty as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault (Efron) is ambushed by the enemy and several of his men are wounded or killed in the subsequent fire fight.

Somehow, Logan escapes unscathed and as he catches his breath, the military man glimpses a photograph of a beautiful woman in the rubble.

He picks up the snapshot just as a mortar explodes nearby. “Got yourself a guardian angel!” jokes a fellow Marine, amazed by Logan’s uncanny ability to cheat death.

When the Marine finally returns home after a third tour, he travels to North Carolina to track down the woman in the photograph.

She turns out to be Beth, who works in a family-run kennel with her feisty grandmother, Ellie (Danner).

Before Logan can explain the reason for his visit, he agrees to help Beth with the animals, and their bond deepens to the chagrin of her jealous ex-husband, Keith (Ferguson), and the delight of Beth’s young son Ben, who yearns for a tender male influence in his life.

While Logan comes to terms with his losses, Beth is still mourning her brother Drake, and that anguish, coupled with Keith’s meddling, threatens to derail the new relationship.