Why lie? When the trailer for "Dear John" first broke on the internet, we couldn't get through it without getting a little choked up. Come on! From the guy who wrote the ultimate tear-jerker, "The Notebook," comes another gloriously syrupy tale of young love torn asunder. Throw in 9-11 theme and a few glamour shots of wet, half-naked Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried, and we were sold. Sadly, the "Dear John" trailer is much better than the actual film.
The pre-Valentine's Day date flick offering is the story of John Tyree (Tatum), a Special Forces solider, who meets and falls for Savannah Curtis (Seyfried) while on leave at home in North Carolina. After just two weeks together, the pair is madly, desperately, in love, a romance that plays out through a series of Dear John letters as John returns to combat duty.
Adapted from Nicholas Sparks' novel of the same name, it has all the signature Sparks elements audiences have gobbled up in the past, making the author one of the biggest franchises in Hollywood. There's a summer love story set in a small town in North Carolina, the couple has a catch phrase ("I'll be seeing you" is "See you soon then" this time around), and the romantic heroes make out in the rain. It's a formula that's worked before. But not this time.
Part of the blame lands squarely on Sparks' shoulders. It's difficult to be invested in a romance when the main characters spend most of the film apart, making the love story untethered and unsatisfying.
Bigger fault lies in Lasse Hallstrom's direction, whose previous work runs the gamut from profoundly brilliant ("What's Eating Gilbert Grape," "My Life as a Dog") to the legendarily campy (26 of ABBAs best known music videos, including "Dancing Queen").
"Dear John" is neither. Lost somewhere in a no man's land of sad sack melodrama and thwarted romance, the film is like a child first learning to play the saxophone: while some notes land on their mark, most are cringingly off key.
Despite other flaws, the one surprising constant in the film is good acting. Tatum turns in an unexpectedly layered, emotionally revealing performance, while Seyfried imbues her role with an interesting quirkiness. Richard Jenkins is stellar, as always, as John's distant father, a relationship which provides the most deeply touching scene in the film. Henry Thomas, of "E.T" fame, has a small but pivotal role that is mostly notable because, well, it's Henry frickin' Thomas ("Ehhh-lee-ot").
Neither a great film nor a terrible film, this is the kind of movie that makes men roll their eyes as Valentine's Day nears, when their girlfriends say, "Oh honey, we have to go see that!"