Zac Efron isn't a bad actor, but this kind of sappy movie will do nothing to build his credibility. The flimsy plot might just about hold a pre-teen girl's interest, but lazy writing and bland production waste the decent filmmaking and acting.
After three tours of duty, shellshocked Marine Logan (Efron) heads home with no plan for the future. At one point in battle he'd found a picture of a pretty girl who became a sort-of guardian angel, so he decides to locate her based on landmarks in the photo. Eventually he meets kennel-owner Beth (Schilling) in down-home Louisiana. Without telling her how he knows her, he takes a job and reluctantly falls for her while charming her smart son (Stewart) and sassy granny (Danner). But Beth's sheriff ex-husband (Ferguson) isn't happy about this interloper.
The plot is assembled by numbers with a series of ludicrously predictable twists and turns. Besides the requisite villain, everyone in this film is almost painfully nice. Beth's kennel is the nicest kennel on earth, populated by the happiest dogs you've ever seen. Everyone has secret depths of loyalty and talent just waiting to emerge when needed. And the way they talk to each other is nauseatingly adorable.
In other words, there isn't an honest moment in this film, which has had every rough edge scrubbed and polished into shimmering loveliness. Even the genuinely terrible things in the plot have a plus side, which Mark Isham's weepy score reminds us constantly. In fact, the film is only remotely watchable because Efron is actually rather interesting as the stony, silent, beefy type, and his chemistry with the rather flatly luminous Schilling is sometimes rather touching.
But the script (or perhaps the Nicholas Sparks novel upon which it's based) and director Hicks keep everything so warmly glowing that these people never get a chance to live and breathe. They smile and cry on cue, confront each other at various points demanded by Screenwriting 101 and ultimately fall in line with the pushy but annoyingly moving resolution to their simplistic problems. That said, if you find a tear in your eye, don't feel too gullible. These are master manipulators.