Synopsis: The lives of a young couple intertwine with a much older man as he reflects back on a lost love while he’s trapped in an automobile crash.
Stars: Britt Robertson, Scott Eastwood, Alan Alda, Jack Huston, Oona Chaplin, Gloria Reuben, Lolita Davidovich
Director: George Tillman, Jr.
Running Length: 139 minutes
TMMM Score: (4/10)
Review: Looking over the bibliography of author Nicholas Sparks, the pickings are getting mighty slim for studios hunting for titles to bring a little romance to their paying audiences. After the (deserved) critical drubbing and box office failure of 2014’s ghastly The Best of Me (insert obligatory “worst” joke here) I was leery about jumping into another Sparks suds-a-thon even though the preview had me more interested that I cared to admit. Sadly, The Longest Ride is just another run-of-the-mill page to screen adaptation from the Sparks roster of tear-jerking tales.
As I mentioned in my review of 2012’s The Lucky One, there is a clear formula at play whenever you settle in for a Sparks saga and The Longest Ride is no different. As in previous films, the women are lithe in limb and the men are smoldering hunks who work manly jobs and have macho hobbies. There’s the requisite scene of the lovers running off a dock, leaping into a body of water in which they can embrace…and in The Longest Ride it actually happens more than once. Throw in an old geezer with a life lesson to teach, the threat of injury that could put a halt to the love affair, and a soundtrack of easy listening radio friendly country tunes and the menu is complete. It’s a pre-packaged TV dinner of a meal, ultimately overbaked.
I wish I could say that it’s strictly the fault of the source material on which screenwriter Craig Bolotin based his sappy adaptation but unfortunately the acting adds another uneven layer to the mix. While I think Britt Robertson (Cake) will fare better sharing the screen with George Clooney in May’s highly anticipated Tomorrowland, here she struggles with a role she doesn’t feel right for. Playing Sophia, a college senior, onscreen she reads like a high school junior making her romance with bull rider Luke (Scott Eastwood) hard to swallow. Arguably saddled with the laziest developed character in the film, Robertson spends most of the film relying on her expressive face rather than her heart.
Robertson has some chemistry with Eastwood (Texas Chainsaw 3D) but with the aforementioned issue with age their passionate scenes wind up falling flat. Showing more flesh than I thought possible for a PG-13 movie (Robertson’s breasts are seen several times and Eastwood bares his backside), their couplings aren’t worth the tortuous build-up.
The whole film I had trouble shaking how much Eastwood looks like his father but the similarities end there. The elder Eastwood favors a less is more approach but the younger Eastwood never finds a balance of true subtlety in his portrayal of a one-time rodeo star battling personal demons while struggling to reclaim his career. In fact, Eastwood may have more connection to a ferocious bull that haunts him than anyone else in the film.
The story of the bull rider and his gal probably would have been enough to satiate audiences eager to fall in love with another Sparks adaptation but there’s an entirely other story inserted as flashbacks and if there’s one thing to recommend about The Longest Ride, it’s this secondary tale.
After saving an elderly man (Alan Alda, Wanderlust) that veered off the road in a rainstorm, Luke and Sophia visit him often enough as he recuperates to hear him recount the time he spent with the love of his life. Played by two descendants of true Hollywood royalty, Jack Huston (American Hustle, grandson of acclaimed director John Huston) and Oona Chaplin (What If, granddaughter of Charlie) make for an appealing pair and, like the recent Woman in Gold, I found myself much more engaged by what happened in the past than anything that was going on in the present.
Director George Tillman, Jr makes the flashbacks look sharp and lovely, a nice contrast to the almost dewy quality of the scenes involving Luke and Sophia. As pleasant as it all looks, there’s no getting away from the fact that neither story is particularly engaging and at 139 minutes (this is the longest Sparks adaptation to date) it starts to feel protracted before it’s even half over. I think Tillman could easily have lost several Luke/Sophia scenes and given the film a better pace without sacrificing any of the drama that clutters up the final 1/3 of the movie. As is typical with Sparks films, there’s a series of unbelievable contrivances introduced less because they make sense but more because they get our characters where they need to be faster.
This is the tenth film adapted from a Sparks bestseller (I do find it odd that his other novels with more supernatural twists haven’t made it to the silver screen yet) and by this point you’re either a Sparks supporter or you aren’t. The Longest Ride isn’t the worst effort nor can it (or should it) be included among the best.