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This Week at the Movies

"The Lucky One" and "The Moth Diaries" are misfires from talented directors.

This week’s new releases are both about strangers in town with secrets to hide. And both movies are genre films, of sorts, directed by established filmmakers.

Unfortunately, the third element these pictures have in common is that they are not particularly good.

“The Lucky One” is the latest Nicholas Sparks novel to receive the big screen treatment – this time by no less than Scott Hicks, who directed the critically acclaimed “Shine.”

In the film, Zac Effron stars as Logan, a marine who served three tours of duty in the Middle East and barely escaped with his life. He attributes his survival to finding a picture of a young woman named Beth (Taylor Schilling), who scribbled “keep safe” on the back of the photograph.

As it turns out, the picture belonged to Beth’s brother, who was killed in combat. Logan decides to return the picture to Beth, but is unable to tell her why he has shown up at her doorstep.

He is taken on as a dog trainer at the Louisiana farm operated by Beth and her mother (Blythe Danner). Romance blossoms and Logan must decide how to explain the circumstances under which he has met Beth.

Because this is a melodrama, we also meet Beth’s nasty ex-husband Keith (Jay R. Ferguson), who also happens to be the local sheriff. Keith drinks too much and threatens to take away Beth’s kid, while Logan remains as upright as a tree throughout.

I read one review of “The Lucky One” that called the picture the best Sparks adaptation since “The Notebook.” This is faint praise, if I’ve ever heard it.

The movie is not any worse than your average Hollywood melodrama, it’s just bland and the chemistry between the two stars is pretty weak.

I’ll give credit where it’s due though – “The Lucky One” features one of the most creative uses of a tree house in recent cinematic memory.

Equally unsatisfying is “The Moth Diaries,” an adaptation of Rachel Klein’s novel by Mary Harron, who directed the brilliant adaptation of “American Psycho” and the worthy “I Shot Andy Warhol.”

Here, unfortunately, the talented director is off her game.

“Moth” follows the story of Rebecca (Sarah Bolger), a young woman attending an exclusive all-girls prep school whose poet father recently committed suicide.

Rebecca takes comfort in the friendship of her pals, especially Lucie (Sarah Gadon), who has helped her to navigate her way through the tragedy.

Enter Ernessa (Lily Cole), a tall, striking British girl who exhibits some strange behavior right off the bat. Lucie and Ernessa strike up a friendship, which doesn’t sit well with Rebecca, especially after it appears that the newcomer is having a strange physical effect on Lucie.

Rebecca, who is reading about vampirism in a literature class, begins to suspect sinister intentions from Ernessa. During several classroom scenes, Rebecca and her teacher (Scott Speedman) riff on how vampire stories require several ingredients, the most important two being sex and death.

Several scenes in “The Moth Diaries” could lead you to believe that Harron is using the film’s gothic storyline to explore the theme of a young woman’s budding sexuality.

But this quickly falls by the wayside as the film becomes a potboiler – not a very good one, I might add - and its characters are bumped off one by one. The picture's denouement goes by in a flash and barely registers.

Harron’s “American Psycho” was a great thriller loaded with subtext, but her latest feels like a missed opportunity.

"The Lucky One" is playing at Douglaston's Movie World, while "The Moth Diaries" is screening at Manhattan's IFC Center.

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