Best-selling writer Nicholas Sparks tugs at the heartstrings. If you’ve seen “The Notebook,” “Message in a Bottle,” “A Walk to Remember” or “Nights in Rodanthe,” you know that feel-good, romantic weepers are his specialty.
Back in 2001, serious, soft-spoken John Tyree (Channing Tatum) falls in love with bubbly Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) on the sun-dappled beach on the South Carolina coast. John is a Special Forces soldier on leave, visiting his taciturn father (Richard Jenkins) who is obsessed with his coin collection. Savannah is home on spring break, helping a family rebuild its hurricane-ravaged house. After their whirlwind two-week idyll, when John returns to Germany and Savannah goes back to college, they’re committed, promising to write for the remaining year of his service. But then 9/11 happens, he re-enlists and – for the next seven years – they’re separated by his increasingly perilous deployments. Melodrama reigns!
If you’ve ever been curious why Nicolas Sparks concentrates on themes involving death, loss and grief, his biography provides the answer: his mother was fatally injured in a horseback riding accident at the age of 47, his youngest sister died of cancer at age 33, and his father was killed in an automobile accident at the age of 54. And devoted Sparks’ aficionados should know that director Lasse Hallstrom (“The Cider House Rules,” “My Life as a Dog,” “Chocolat,” “Casanova”) and cliché-prone screenwriter Jamie Linden take artistic liberties with the lovers’ ultimate fate, which differs from the book’s ending. Reportedly, the conclusion was reworked after disappointing feedback from a test-screening.
But the primary problem is Channing Tatum’s (“Fighting,” “Stop-Loss”) lack of appeal; he’s hunky and photogenic but totally lacks charisma. Lovely Amanda Seyfried (“Mamma Mia,” HBO’s “Big Love”) does her best to feign carnal chemistry but to no avail. Curiously, supporting actors Richard Jenkins and Henry Thomas (as Savannah’s neighbor with an autistic son) delineate far more interesting characters.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Dear John” is a sudsy, syrupy 6, too often crossing the thin, star-crossed line between sentimental and schmaltzy.