Friday, May 1, 2015


Movies made from bestsellers by Nicholas Sparks usually require Kleenex galore if you don't want to drown in your own tears. The tenth Sparks' novel to receive the silver screen treatment, "The Longest Ride" (**1/2 OUT OF ****) isn't as hopelessly tragic as some of the author's earlier tearjerkers. Meaning, "The Longest Ride" is nowhere near as heartbreaking as "Message in a Bottle" (1999), "A Walk to Remember" (2002), "The Notebook" (2004), "Nights in Rodanthe" (2008), and "The Best of Me" (2014). Mind you, "The Longest Ride" does have more than enough lachrymose moments. Nevertheless, everything works out well enough for all the protagonists in this sappy soap opera. Each of the four primary characters and most of the supporting players are endearing souls. The villains that lurk on the periphery are far from despicable. More than anything else, they just seem suspicious, but never hateful. Like "The Notebook," "The Longest Ride" intertwines two romantic melodramas occurring in different times at different places to illuminate the message that true love involves sacrifice. "The Longest Ride" emerges as lightweight and frivolous compared with the far more serious "Notebook." "Scream 4" actress Britt Robertson and Clint Eastwood's youngest son Scott Eastwood portray the youthful lovers in the contemporary romance who negotiate an obstacle course of trials and tribulations. She is a second semester college senior studying art from the city with her entire life awaiting her, while he is a hard-luck, rodeo riding cowboy from the country playing wet nurse to snotty bulls and struggling to save the family ranch. In the romance from the past, set during the Second World War, Jack Huston plays the Jewish son of a haberdasher who falls in love with a vibrant refuge from Vienna. Jack's inamorata, Oona Chaplin, and her family have fled from the wicked Nazis and are embarking on a new life. Interestingly enough, "The Longest Ride" marks the first time that Sparks has integrated his predominantly White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant characters with Jewish characters. Despite their ethnic traditions, each couple must triumph over demoralizing medical conditions that threaten to ruin their romance more than parents concerned with class mixing.

You know tragedy is going to strike in "The Longest Ride," but you cannot be certain when it will or who it will affect the worst. The contemporary romance between the cowboy and the city slicker surpasses the experiences of the Jewish couple. Principally Britt Robertson and Scott Eastwood generate greater charisma than Jack Huston and Oona Chaplin. Nevertheless, "Soul Food" director George Tilman Jr., and "Light It Up" scenarist Craig Bolotin neatly connect the older romance with the contemporary one. Sophia Danko (Britt Robertson of "Scream 4") is the kind of college student who would rather study than goof off on campus with her sisters. Now that she's half way through his second senior semester and has earned straight A's, Sophia cuts herself some slack when a sorority sister invites her out to witness a rodeo. Love at first sight aptly describes Sophia's reaction when the bull that rodeo rider Luke Collins (Scott Eastwood of "Fury") straddles sends him sprawling into the dirt at her feet. Luke loses his Stetson, and Sophia retrieves it for him. Luke lets her keep his headgear and ambles away. Later, during the day, Luke and Sophia strike up a conversation and the inevitable date ensues. Basically, she is the sophisticated dame, while he is a rural ranch hand. Nevertheless, opposites attract in the best love stories.

Anyway, as Luke is taking Sophia back to her sorority house after their first date, they notice smashed through a bridge railing. They find an elderly man who plunged off the bridge and slammed into a tree. He lies near death in his wrecked car. Courageously, Luke pulls Ira Levinson (Alan Alda of "The Aviator"), from his automobile. Ira cries out about a box, and Sophia grabs it as Luke is toting Ira away. Since nobody knows Ira at the hospital, Sophia hangs around until he awakens from surgery. Ira, it seems, banged his head up pretty badly in the accident. As a patient, Ira is nothing but cantankerous. He complains that his nurse soaks her hands in ice water. Sophia tells him that she was one of the two good Samaritans who rescued him. Moreover, she persuades grumpy Ira to eat his objectionable hospital fare. If he'll eat his food, she promises to read some of the letters in the box of letters. Sophia knows the letters are love letters because she has perused them. Later, she reads Ira, and we find ourselves swept up in a wistful flashback love affair in the 1940s between a Jewish lad and lady from different backgrounds. As it turns out, love is no different for different people. Everybody encounters variations on the same heartache. The love of Ira's life, Ruth (Oona Chaplin of "Quantum of Solace") dreams of having a large family, but Ira cannot accommodate her owing to a war wound. Like Noah in "The Notebook," Ira tangles with the Nazis in Europe, but he comes home a different man much to Ruth's chagrin. Meantime, Luke and Sophia quarrel after a nasty bull dumps him. Luke's physician warns him his next tumble could be fatal. Sophia begs him to quit bull riding, but Luke refuses out of stubborn pride.

"The Longest Ride" is sure to make Scott Eastwood into a movie star. He looks so much like his father that you cannot believe he is his son. Director George Tillman doesn't overlook an opportunity to photograph every muscular contour of Eastwood's virile physique, and the PG-13 rating prevents him from going all out. Eastwood and co-star Britt Robertson have a shower scene together and do just about everything that is expected of a young romantic couple. Comparatively, Ruth and Ira's romance is restrained. Alan Alda spends most of his time in a hospital bed. Altogether, "The Longest Ride" serves up a lot of hankie with some panky.