Rated PG-13 for some sensuality and violence, 105 minutes
Sappiness abounds in the tearjerker "Dear John"
Nicholas Sparks is slowly becoming the Stephen King for romance movies, having most of his books either made into movies that women adore and men ha...well, tolerate, especially around Valentine's Day. If men know what's good for them, they'll take their significant other to see the latest Sparks adaptation, "Dear John," an oversentimental, sappy but well-directed romantic tale of long-distance love.
The story begins in the South around 2001 on a beach. John Tyree (Channing Tatum) meets Savannah (Amanda Seyfried) when he dives in the water to retrieve her purse. They strike up a conversation. become friends and eventually fall in love over a 2-week period, until Savannah goes back to college and John goes back on active duty in the Army. On top of that, John's relationship with his distant father (Richard Jenkins) has its challenges due to the fact that his father has a form of autism that's never really been diagnosed.
John and Savannah communicate regularly through letters (you know, Dear John letters), learning more about each other, until 9/11 occurs. John decides on an extended tour and during this time unexpected circumstances cause the pair to break up, even after they've declared their undying love for each other.
"Dear John" is big overemotional chick flick puffery, though in fact that statement may be redundant. I won't completely trash "Dear John" for a couple of reasons, the first is that the film is directed by acclaimed director Lasse Hallstrom ("My Life As a Dog"), who tries to keep things balanced with Sparks' mauldlin material and two pretty but vacuous leads, but more on them in a moment.
Second, it has one of my favorite character actors, Oscar-nominated Richard Jenkins ("The Visitor"), who's superb as John's father and conveys more emotion in a few glances and body movements than the rest of the cast put together (and he and Tatum's final, very wrenching scene together is the best in the movie, have plenty of tissues handy). Watch for Henry Thomas (yes, the "E.T." boy all grown up and looking very different) in a small but key role as a friend of the lovebirds.
Speaking of which, the two handsome leads are the main appeal for "Dear John" but they're the biggest flaws. Seyfried, best known for "Mamma Mia!" and TV's "Big Love," is serviceably bubbly, but it's the bland Channing Tatum ("G.I. Joe") who again, with his rote, emotionless line readings and blank stares drags the movie down. Even a skilled director like Hallstrom can do only so much with an actor who's limited acting range resembles Ben Affleck's, and the film falters when the film is put on Tatum's back to carry (as Seyfried is gone for a sizeable chunk of the movie); it clearly reveals that he just isn't a strong enough actor at this point to do so.
"Dear John's" initial chapters are the more engaging, until the gooey, slower second act kicks in with a couple of icky twists that aren't well integrated into the film. But "Dear John" isn't Hallstrom's fault necessarily, but the cheesy Sparks novel on which its based, and a lack of a strong actor as its emotional core. "The Notebook" at least had Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling and "Message in a Bottle" had Kevin Costner.
"Dear John" is one of those critic-proof films that will be a hit regardless of what I think, so ladies carry on. Men, know what to expect.