‘Dear John’: Have a shoulder to cry on

  • Thu Feb 4th, 2010 4:02pm
  • Life

By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic

He’s not exactly Stephen King, but Nicholas Sparks has gradually become a bankable movie name — as a novelist. Hollywood has been lapping up his bestsellers, such as “The Notebook” and “Nights in Rodanthe,” and the man is now a brand name.

How do you recognize the brand? If I tell you that the women sitting next to me at a preview screening of “Dear John” literally passed the Kleenex box between them at one point, you’ll know this is a Nicholas Sparks movie.

“Dear John” tracks the travails of an ill-starred young couple in the Carolinas. Broody, moody John (Channing Tatum) is on leave from his Army duty in early 2001 when he meets Savannah (Amanda Seyfried), a local sunbeam.

You know from the date that all of their plans to get together when his hitch is up will be altered by Sept. 11. John stays in the Army, Savannah goes back to school, but their letter-writing continues.

Yes, letter-writing. The romance film will likely be dealt a serious blow by the age of e-mail and texting. It’s hard to imagine a Nicholas Sparks story that involves Twitter.

A few tedious surprises await our young lovers, including an out-of-the-blue development that seems to have leapt from the pages of a Victorian melodrama. It also renders Savannah a complete mystery, which is quite unlike the way we’ve experienced her.

Its plot pretzels aside, this is the kind of thing that depends on its two leads, and clearly the producers have chosen to go with the sort of rising-star vibe that Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams brought to “The Notebook.”

Channing Tatum, having appeared in the “Step Up” movies and last year’s “G.I. Joe,” might already have arrived. He’s a physical actor with an earnest manner, which suits the character in “Dear John.”

Amanda Seyfried was the marriageable daughter in “Mamma Mia!” and has some authentic moments in the early going here. She can’t make too much sense of her character later, but neither could Meryl Streep.

“Dear John” is so stripped-down to its heavy-breathing central duo that it dispenses with the usual sidekicks: the wacky best buddy for the hero, the gal pal that consoles but isn’t prettier than the heroine. Is Hollywood trying to keep Dan Fogler and Judy Greer out of work?

Richard Jenkins plays John’s oddball father, and Henry Thomas (the kid from “E.T.”) is around long enough for you to wonder why he doesn’t get big roles more regularly. They are pros, and they don’t do badly.

Director Lasse Hallstrom continues his uneven output, which is a shame considering how fun his previous picture (“The Hoax”) was. He doesn’t seem especially engaged by this one, which makes it a long haul, unless you go strictly for the tears.

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre, Everett, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Meridian, Metro, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall