ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

Luke Collins (Scott Eastwood) is a former bull riding champion looking to make a comeback following a serious head injury. Sophia Danko (Britt Robertson) is an art student at Wake Forest on the verge of landing the job of her dreams. The two meet cute and while out on their first date, they rescue a car accident victim, a former WWII veteran named Ira Levinson (Alan Alda).

While the different worlds and ideals of Sophia and Luke put their relationship to the test, Sophia makes a connection with Ira who tells her of his late wife Ruth (Oona Chaplin) through letters he used to write her throughout their decades-long marriage together.

Somehow, both Sophia and Ira’s relationships will connect. Don’t you worry; Nicholas Sparks will find a way to shoehorn it in.

It just now dawned on me that I wasted a bunch of words typing out the synopsis when copying and pasting the plot to any other Sparks movie would’ve sufficed.

So Nicholas Sparks is back once again on the big screen, and a year in film must not be complete without him since we’ve had one film every year since 2012, and that streak doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon with 2016’s The Choice just around the corner.

Thank God.

I honestly try to give every film the benefit of the doubt, but these movies make it so damn hard when they’re all one and the same. The plot point dots connect like clockwork. Cue the meet cute moment (as always, between a guy and gal from opposing backgrounds), the sappy first date, the steamy lovemaking scene, the wise elderly character and the big surprise ending.

Yet, in fairness, this isn’t nearly as horribly manipulative as his past two – three – four – no, five – six – hell, I’ve lost count – films. Of course, it’s not exactly far-fetched to say The Longest Ride is the most bearable Sparks film to sit through since The Notebook (a corny, hokey and manipulative film, for sure, but it at least had a great cast to sell its saccharine crap). I mean, have you seen all the other films in between those two?

Similar to The Notebook, what works are the performances, and there’s a certain kick to seeing three individuals who come from film royalty together in the same film. Scott Eastwood, as the name should more than suggest, is the son of legendary actor/filmmaker Clint Eastwood (the resemblance is more than striking). Jack Huston comes from the great Huston dynasty (Walter, John, Anjelica, Danny), and Oona Chaplin is the granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin and the great-granddaughter of American playwright Eugene O’Neill. Sure, the characters are riddled with every cliche in the book, and the tired narrative they’re all stuck in doesn’t do anyone any favors, but the cast manage to make it work, and by work I mean up to a point where I could keep my food down.

Britt Robertson (who we’ll see again next month in Tomorrowland with George Clooney) gives a fine performance, and though neither are setting the screen on fire, there is some chemistry between her and Scott Eastwood, despite Eastwood being a little stiff at times. Not that his father’s known for any versatile range either, but Clint’s obviously done very well in roles tailor-made for him, and Scott displays enough charm that could serve him well in the right role.

Veteran actor Alan Alda is stuck playing the obligatory thankless “wise old man” role (pretty much the same life lesson doling character Gerald McRaney played in last year’s The Best of Me), but is experienced enough to inject more humanity into the character than this film deserves. Jack Huston and Oona Chaplin also share some fine moments together in flashbacks as the younger versions of Ira and his wife.

Despite the fine performances, this is still a Nicholas Sparks film and if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all. Though not as extremely heavy-handed as 99.9% of the other Nicholas Sparks adaptations, the film doesn’t miss any opportunities afforded it to beat us upside the head with its metaphors (The Longest Ride = what 8 seconds on a bucking bull feels like, a lifelong battle-tested romance that has endured many trials, and what all 2+ hours of this film felt like), and the usual ridiculous plot elements that are par for the course with these films, one of which is a ludicrous mutual rivalry between Luke and a monstrous bull named Rango that previously knocked Luke into a coma.

As if the bull actually gives a rat’s ass.

It also takes most of the film for Sophia to realize just how dangerous the sport Luke participates in is, even after learning about his previous injury long before the light bulb clicks on in her head and she looks up the footage of his accident on this little underground but helpful site that I guess the kids are calling YouTube.

Let’s put it this way – Ira and Ruth as Jews who never once seemed to experience any form of anti-Semitism during the WWII-era ’40s is the most believable storyline of the film.

Speaking of that bull and the “longest ride”. Unable to have brought any suspense or thrills to the previous bull rides, director George Tillman must’ve thought it’d be a good move to switch Luke’s final ride during the climactic competition to slow-motion, allowing us to see each strand of bull snot and saliva as it flings out of the raging animal (why this film wasn’t released with a 3D version is beyond me) like the torrents of blood splattered across the screen in 300. In real-time, the ride only lasts 8 seconds. In slow-mo time, it felt like half the film’s length.

Lastly, what’s a film like this without another one of those trademark crazy Nicholas Sparks endings? Believe it or not, this film almost had me believing that for once it wasn’t gonna end with another utterly “Are you kidding me?!” moment. To think I was anticipating one just like a Marvel post-credits scene, only to be let down.

And then just when you thought it wasn’t coming, it shows up, accompanied by much gasping from others in the theater, all of whom clearly have not seen any other Sparks movie. It’s not quite Julianne Hough talks to dead people crazy or Michelle Monaghan’s son needs a heart transplant, but lucky for her, the true love of her life was tragically murdered and he’s a perfect donor match for the boy contrived. But it’s still worth an eye roll or two.

Or three.

While I guess you can say it’s somewhat of an accomplishment that The Longest Ride isn’t as painfully mawkish as the many other Nicholas Sparks films, it’s also not that hard to be any better. The performances are fine and they all provide more spark (See what I did there?) than anyone that isn’t the targeted audience expects out of the cliche characters that take up the screen in these movies. But its still as by-the-numbers, contrived and sticky sweet as anyone that, once again, isn’t the targeted audience expects it to be.

I give The Longest Ride a C- (★★).

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