The Best Of Me
(M) 1.5 out 5
Director: Michael Hoffman.
Cast: James Marsden, Michelle Monaghan, Luke Bracey, Liana Liberato, Gerald McRaney, Sebastian Arcelus, Sean Bridgers.
THE quality of a movie based on a Nicholas Sparks book is becoming as predictable as the posters promoting them.
Just as you can bet that the poster will probably feature two people inches from kissing as one of them caresses the other's face, it's equally likely the movie will be a pile of mushy romantic tripe peppered with terrible dialogue, hackneyed plots, and maybe even a weird twist in the tail.
These films have their fans - particularly the overrated love story of The Notebook - and do well at the box office, so maybe all critics are wrong when we continually give them terrible reviews.
But having sat through The Best Of Me, I would be amazed to hear even the most ardent Sparks fan defend it as anything more than rubbish.
The premise follows Dawson and Amanda, whose love burns brightly for a few heady months in 1992 until something happens - and this is the film's big slow-burn mystery - that tears them apart.
Twenty-one years later, Dawson and Amanda are reunited by the death of mutual friend Tuck (McRaney), rekindling old feelings, past mistakes, and the prospect of adultery given that Amanda is apparently unhappy marriaged.
As a youngster, Dawson is played by former Home & Away hunk Luke Bracey, who appears way too old to be a high school student and looks nothing like his supposed older version, played by James Marsden, which is jarring, but not a deal-breaker.
What's worse is Bracey's unconvincing chemistry with the bubbly Liana Liberato, which never really sells the idea that this is some kind of undying love that will endure despite two decades apart - more like it's the kind of high school fling that was bound to fizzle out as they got older and went to different colleges.
Furthermore, the plot involving a middle-aged man never getting over his first crush is presented as super-romantic but comes off in places as being super creepy. From the point of view of the grown-up Amanda (Monaghan), it's kind of sad and slightly wrong that despite having been married for a long time she still carries a torch for Dawson.
Being a thirty-something male, I am not the target audience for these Sparks adaptions and I can see how these are (and I'm broadly stereotyping film demographics here) intended as the female equivalent of the superhero genre - they're about fantastical situations, escapism and a kind of wish fulfilment. But if one demographic daydreams about being Iron Man or Spider-man and saving the world, the other demographic apparently (according to The Best Of Me) yearns to commit adultery with hunky men from the wrong side of the tracks who garden with their shirts off, can fix cars, and read books about physics and quantum mechanics. This may be true - I don't know, but it's what the film would have me believe.
There's definitely something fantastical about the whole thing - no one in real life talks like the people in The Best Of Me, and even the best efforts of Marsden and Monaghan (who surely have better things to do) can't make these words fly. Equally out-there is the ending, which admittedly isn't quite as insane as the finale to last year's Sparks adaptation Safe Haven but is still mind-bogglingly redundant and contrived.
There are themes about fate and destiny among it all, ideas about things happening for a reason, but they're as laughable as the villains in the film.
A couple of highlights mildly offset things - the film looks pretty, Tuck is a good character and nicely underplayed by McRaney, and there are a couple of nice moments amid the clichéd bits we've come to expect in almost every Sparks adaptation (kissing in the rain, swimming together, sleeping on the floor together).
These positives are not enough to recommend The Best Of Me, which unfortunately brought out the worst of me as a critic.