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Originally published Friday, September 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

"The Lucky Ones": When soldiers return home

"The Lucky Ones": This attempt to create an Iraq-war home-front classic like "The Best Years of Our Lives" has its moments, but the story line about three returning veterans (played by Tim Robbins, Rachel McAdams and Michael Peña) is predictable.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

"The Lucky Ones," with Michael Peña, Tim Robbins, Rachel McAdams. Directed by Neil Burger, from a screenplay by Burger and Dirk Wittenborn. 115 minutes. Rated R for language, sex scenes. Several theaters.

Years from now, when we look back at Hollywood's Iraq-war movies, we may wonder why the genre produced nothing (well, so far) that matches "The Best Years of Our Lives" for home-front poetry or "Dr. Strangelove" for wartime satire.

The latest attempt to create a home-front classic, "The Lucky Ones," superficially follows the lead of "Best Years": Three veterans return to find that there's no place like home — not even home. Jobs have vanished, marriages are broken and war injuries — both physical and mental — make it difficult to communicate with civilians who haven't knowingly faced death on a daily basis.

Occasionally the writers flirt with satire, especially during an episode about a rich right-winger who invites the soldiers to a dinner party where various opinions about the war are aired by boorish civilians.

The soldiers claim they were only trying to stay alive in Iraq, while others drunkenly proclaim the war is a disaster. Still others just want to talk about their golf games or their readiness to become swingers.

The three main characters are remarkably short of opinions on the war. Cheever (Tim Robbins) is thankful that a porta-potty fell on his back and sent him home. Colee (Rachel McAdams) joined the Army when she was thrown out of her house by a tyrannical mother. TK (Michael Peña) is the latest soldier recruited from a poor military family.

One by one, they discard their illusions and come to rely on each other — as we knew they would. The shape of the script by director Neil Burger ("The Illusionist") and Dirk Wittenborn is obvious and predictable, and sometimes worse than that. A computer-generated tornado is dragged into the story just to provide some action and, apparently, to provide a cure for TK's impotence.

Still, the details of several scenes are sharp enough to give the actors something to work with. John Heard makes the most of his cameo role as an obnoxious partygoer. McAdams and Peña are affectingly vulnerable, while Robbins convinces as a family man with strong paternal instincts.

Robbins is most effective when the impatient Cheever is dealing with red tape and a wife who has apparently joined the pod people. McAdams shines in a bar scene in which television-trivia addicts mock the limp she earned from a leg wound. And Peña, whose character is the least-defined, provides a solid anchor for the other actors to play off.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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