Like Boys on the Side with the Iraq war as a backdrop, The Lucky Ones follows three unlikely friends, tossed together by extenuating circumstances, setting off on a cross-country road trip that bonds them into an unlikely family. Michael Peña, Tim Robbins and Rachel McAdams star as U.S. soldiers, each injured in battle, returning home with a mission.

Written and directed by Neil Burger (The Illusionist), the film’s greatest hurdle is his mallet-fisted approach. The movie is filled with stilted, contrived Thank Yous to the brave soldiers and references to “Over There.”

It’s as if he’s afraid to fully tackle his subject matter, possibly for fear he’ll end up suffering the fate of other largely ignored Iraq war films like In the Valley of Elah, Stop-Loss and Rendition. Robbins is capable, McAdams is charming, Peña is incredibly talented, and their performances are the film’s greatest strengths.

Unfortunately, Burger seems to be undecided between making a wacky road movie or a heartfelt portrait of war’s aftermath, and he’s unsuccessful at both.

Grade: C

The Lucky Ones releases in select theaters Sept. 26.