'The Longest Ride'
I’ll say this about ‘The Longest Ride’: Not only does the latest bucket of Nicholas Sparks swill feature two intertwining love stories, but with a butt-numbing running time of 139 minutes, the experience feels like watching two movies back-to-back. That means it’s like getting a two-for-one Sparks movie deal. It’s good value for money and you’ll have a free pass to skip his next dreary adaptation as well since you’ve already suffered through two simultaneously.
Unfortunately that’s the strongest selling point for ‘The Longest Ride’. Beyond that, it’s pretty rough going. It’s not the worst Nick Sparks film adaptation, but since it’s the longest, the viewing experience is punishing enough to feel like it.
Scott “Clint’s Son” Eastwood stars as a professional bull rider. He’s the best there is, regularly ranked among the top in the world according to the movie. (I’m not sure how many other countries practice bull-riding, but thinking while watching a Nick Sparks flick is always a bad idea.) Unfortunately, he has a bad accident on a particularly rough bull that leaves him with an unnamed brain condition that could be lethal if he gets into another bull accident. Oh no!
Britt Robertson (‘Under the Dome’) plays an arty and smarty sorority girl whose friends drag her to a bull-riding show one night even though she doesn’t normally do that sort of thing and certainly isn’t attracted to cowboys. Boy, these two characters are so different there’s no way they could fall in love. Guess what, though? They totally do. Instantly.
However, things are complicated because Robertson has a super important internship coming up in an art gallery in New York and really shouldn’t be getting into a relationship right now. To complicate things even further, their first date ends with them pulling Alan Alda out of the flaming wreckage of a car accident. He has his own impossible love story, carefully written down in a series letters between himself and his departed wife that he collected in a box and just happened to be in the car during the accident. Robertson starts reading the letters aloud to Alda as he heals up in the hospital, spinning a story about an art loving girl and the boy who loved her but could never give her the children she so desperately wanted. Do you think that romantic claptrap might inspire the stars of the other cornball romantics in the movie? Hmmm… I just don’t know.
Now that you have all that information, I assure you that you can guess the rest of the story for yourself with scene-by-scene accuracy. Nicolas Sparks doesn’t write love stories that are unpredictable, unconventional, or even believable. Nonetheless, he has a magic formula that works for some reason. This is the tenth movie inspired by one of his books and all of them have been hits.
It also has to be said that the guy clearly has an authorial voice. It doesn’t matter who directs these movies or who stars in them. They all feel the same. Even the two separate love stories in this single over-stuffed film feel practically identical. The guy knows what he’s doing and his “art” appeals to someone. Unfortunately, that’s not me. These tedious fairy tale romances are nauseatingly corny in my eyes, and I don’t know how anyone could possibly take them seriously. Based purely on box office totals, I’m in the minority.
It’s worth noting that this woozy fairy tale of sweet make-out sessions and intense emotions is slightly less offensive than some of Sparks’ previous nonsense. There are no secret ghost characters nor are there any confused portrayals of Alzheimer’s. It’s just clichéd fluff presented through impossible earnestness. Director George Tillman, Jr. provides all the soft focus fantasy that the film requires, while also tossing in plenty of helicopter shots of trucks driving through farm country backed by country music hits to ensure that the targeted Southern U.S. audience is pandered to as hard as possible. (He also shoots all of the 1950s flashback sequences like Norman Rockwell paintings so that we don’t confuse them with reality.)
Scott Eastwood serves up hunky abs and the deadpan delivery of his father, but without any of his daddy’s gruffness or charisma to get in the way of Sparks’ childish fantasy. Britt Robertson is beautiful and even talented, but since her role is limited to staring longingly into Eastwood’s eyes or tearing up while hearing Alda’s stories, she never gets a chance to construct anything resembling a character. (This continues the remarkable streak in Sparks’ movies starring female protagonists who are insultingly simplistic yet still appeal to a female audiences.) Alan Alda does his best to add something resembling a lively performance, but the sleepy Lifetime movie atmosphere of the picture won’t allow anything like that to spoil the schmaltz.
In the end, ‘The Longest Ride’ is just as annoying and cloying as all the other Nicholas Sparks movies, which means that fans should eat it up and everyone else will roll their eyes. The only difference is that this time the movie takes longer than ever before to work its creaky magic. There’s no sense in getting angry about these movies existing or sucking at this point. The audience for them clearly exists and will continue to love them for all the reasons that everyone else hates them. They can go have their fun, I suppose. They just better not judge me for going to see ‘Furious 7’ again this weekend instead. Both movies are equally stupid, just in very different ways. I happen to prefer the one with The Rock and irony.