DIRECTOR: George Tillman, Jr.longest_ride

CAST: Britt Robertson, Scott Eastwood, Alan Alda, Jack Huston, Oona Chaplin, Melissa Benoist, Lolita Davidovich, Barry Ratcliffe, Gloria Reuben, Brett Edwards, Hunter Burke, Alina Lia

RUNNING TIME: 128 mins

CERTIFICATE: 12A

BASICALLY…: As a reckless bull rider (Eastwood) and a college student (Robertson) fall in love, their story soon becomes intertwined with a lost romance from the 1940s…

 

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Nicholas Sparks, the author of several schmaltz and lovey-dovey novels such as The Notebook, Dear John and The Best of Me, has long been a target of critics for its pandering to the female demographic with its contrived, manipulative romances and the effortlessly cheesy tone he brings with him. The various film adaptations of his stories certainly haven’t helped soothe their anger, with many feeling uneasy that such sickly tripe has now made its way to a much wider audience.

So with this in mind, how does his latest adaptation The Longest Ride fare? In short, not great – but we’ve seen far worse from him at the same time.

If you’re at all familiar with the Sparks formula, then you know the drill by now: a boy and girl that are almost polar opposites – in this case, Scott Eastwood’s fearless bull rider Luke and Britt Robertson’s sensible college student Sophia – meet and fall in love, and from there they encounter all the problems and solutions that any couple in a Nicholas Sparks movie would face. The main difference this time round? Here, there are TWO romances, the other running parallel to the other storyline when Luke and Sophia find and rescue Alan Alda’s elderly Ira from a car accident early on – in that one, we see Ira as a young man (now played by Jack Huston) and his relationship with Vienna immigrant Ruth (Oona Chaplin) from the 1940s up to the present day. It seems, at least according to Sparks, that we’re getting two for the price of one – and each storyline is as sappy and problematic as you’d expect.

Everything you see in both storylines is nothing new, and a victim of the author falling prey to his own clichés that were old even by the time he started doing it. All the actors are fine, particularly Britt Robertson who is ironically given more room to showcase her talents here than in Tomorrowland, but they can only do so much to elevate the material higher than it should be. With every twist that comes your way, you can spot it coming a mile off before the characters ever do, and you start to wonder if the film could be more innovative and even edgy if it went down a darker, unexpected route. They set up, for example, a revelation that Ira and Ruth’s relationship is going to hit a point where it can never fully recover, and that in some way leads to a tragic incident which results in their eternal separation. There are even hints of it here and there to fuel this theory, and you’re simply waiting for it to happen – but the whole thing is resolved in a very anti-climactic way that enforces a happier ending, rendering all that build-up of something else entirely completely pointless. It’s just Sparks doing whatever he can to cram in his formulaic ending, even if it means sacrificing anything that could make it dramatically poignant.

As much as the actors are at least trying, you just don’t care all that much about both couples either. Luke and Sophia, decent chemistry aside, don’t have much that stands out for them as individual characters; Luke especially is a fairly bland male lead with that bad-boy Southern gentlemanly get-up that he has going on, so much so that a scene where he tries to fit in at an art gallery where Sophia is interning is hilariously passé and contrived that to call it a fish-out-of-water scene would be insulting to other fish-out-of-water scenes. Ira and Ruth do at least have slightly more things happening for them, but their situations are relatively mild in the grander scheme of things and even duller when you remember that it’s all building up to something tragic in the end, albeit anti-climactically.

Longer than it needs to be at 128 minutes, it’s also something of a slog to get through – what little there is to like about the characters you still don’t care for all that much, and you’re counting down the seconds until the next contrived Sparks plot point makes its way onto the screen so it’s all just a bit dull. However, it’s definitely not the worst that Hollywood has seen of Sparks’ work on the big screen thus far, now have we for that matter – we had to sit through The Lucky One, aka the one where Taylor Schilling virtually abandons her son to have sex with Zac Efron – but The Longest Ride is still a mediocre flick that only Nicholas Sparks fans will truly embrace.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Longest Ride isn’t as bad as other Nicholas Sparks adaptations, but its sticking to romantic formula and bland romantic leads, despite good efforts by its cast, don’t make it a particularly good one either.