The Longest Ride
2015, PG-13, 128 min. Directed by George Tillman Jr.. Starring Britt Robertson, Scott Eastwood, Alan Alda, Jack Huston, Oona Chaplin, Lolita Davidovich.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 10, 2015
In this latest Nicholas Sparks romancer, a country boy and a city girl meet cute at the rodeo in present-day North Carolina. He’s a bull rider named Luke (Eastwood, a dead ringer for dad Clint, only dunked in a bath of blandness), and she’s an East Coast native named Sophia (Robertson, sparky but weightless) who’s about to graduate from Wake Forest and debark for her dream job at a Manhattan art gallery. They’re both demonstrably nice, and certainly nice-looking, but buyer beware any movie first date that fuzzes out the sound as soon as boy and girl start talking. There’s little here to convince the audience of boy and girl’s special chemistry, and nothing to attach the audience to them, either.
At the tail end of that first date, Luke and Sophia come across a car wreck and pull the elderly driver, Ira Levinson (Alda), to safety. “My box,” he croaks, half-dead. If you’ve been paying any attention to the Nicholas Sparks playbook, you already know the box contains love letters – Sparks is powerfully devoted to epistolary romance – and they will be the gateway to a second love story, this one set in sepia 50 years prior.
“Ambitious” is too generous a word for The Longest Ride, but there’s no denying that the mega-bestselling, devoutly Christian Sparks – and his adapters – aren’t at least trying out some new material: The professional bull-riding circuit, a midcentury art movement, and even (Christ almighty!) two Jewish characters are a few of the curlicues inserted into his usual plodding line to true love everlasting. Oona Chaplin, as Ira’s World War II-era inamorata, is magnetic onscreen, and director George Tillman Jr. (The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete) milks bull riding’s storied eight seconds for a standout slow-motion sequence late in the film – but they’re only flare guns of interest shot out from a sea of dross, and the brightest spots in a picturesque but tiresomely insensate film. A third-act twist, in which these nice and nice-looking people are handsomely rewarded for so much niceness, has all the narrative sophistication of a 10-year-old closing her eyes and wishing dreamily before blowing out the candles.