Can teen heart-throb Zac Efron convince us he's a battle-weary Marine?

He was dancing, singing TV teenybopper Link in "Hairspray," and popular basketball captain Troy in "High School Musical." Will anybody take him seriously as a veteran leatherneck in Nicholas Sparks' "The Lucky One"?

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The movie, based on the Sparks novel, opens in a Iraqi firefight where Efron’s character reaches down to pick up a flash of color that catches his eye – a snapshot of an American woman standing in front of a water tower. The act saves his life and the photo becomes a lucky talisman.

Efron as Sgt. Logan Thibbaud

But when he comes home, he just doesn’t fit in anymore. He reacts like a Marine to the sound of gunfire – but is embarrassed when it’s just a young nephew on a video game. He gets on his sister’s computer and finds the Louisiana water tower in the lucky photo. Then he sets out on foot with his German Shepherd and walks more than 1,000 miles to Cajun country in hope of finding the girl in the picture.

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Would Efron rise to the occasion? Gone was his trademark hair – instead he had a jarhead buzz cut that gradually grows out during the film. And in his eyes was that distant, almost-dangerous, tightly controlled, often wistful intensity that I’d worried about as three Marines and a Marine dad searched Norfolk for a Kalishnikov.

“Initially I wasn’t convinced I could pull this off,” Efron admitted after the screening, “but the more I thought about it, and the more I talked to Scott, I realized if there was ever going to be a chance to play a role so different from what I’ve played before, this was it. I knew I had to put in the work to be able to play Logan, and I felt capable in Scott’s hands.”

Scott is Scott Hicks, the director of The Lucky One.

Director Scott Hicks

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