He rides a bull, falls off and loses his hat. She picks it up as he dusts himself off. Her blue eyes lock with his blue eyes.
“Keep it,” he grins, and she pokes the dirt and sawdust with the toe of her cowgirl boot to show she’s interested.
Welcome to Nicholas Sparks world. Welcome to “The Longest Ride.”
Clint Eastwood’s son Scott stars as laconic Luke, an archetypal Sparks hero — quiet, brave, courtly. Britt Robertson, earning “next big thing” buzz thanks to her role in the upcoming “Tomorrowland,” is Sophia Danko, the Wake Forest University art history major about to graduate, but about to find herself distracted by the handsome, fatalistic rodeo cowboy.
It’s not a question of if he’ll get hurt, he drawls, “it’s when, and how hard.”
Their old-fashioned first date ends with him rescuing an old man (Alan Alda) from a car wreck. She recovers the men’s precious box of mementos — a Purple Heart, old love letters. And in reading those to the old man in the hospital, she and Luke learn of a great love of the past and what it takes to achieve such a love — in Nicholas Sparks world.
It does no good to over-think the corn served up in this fantasy land, but when you flash back to 1940, you’re telling us the man in the hospital is 93-95 years old. And driving. And he’s not living in Florida. Alan Alda, who as aged-Ira twinkles and pretty much steals the picture, doesn’t suggest that. Luke is bull-riding to save the family ranch in “Walkerton, N.C.” Walkertown, N.C., between Winston-Salem, where Wake Forest is located, and Greensboro, where the World War II love story of Ruth (Oona Chaplin) and Ira (Jack Huston) is set, is not exactly known as cattle country, ranch country or a bull-riding training ground.
But if it’s not set in N.C., how is Sparks going to get his young lovers to the beaches of Carolina? Without the beach, there is no “beach novel.”
Director George Tillman Jr., who did the very fine “Notorious” Biggy Smalls bio-pic, manages stunningly real bull riding scenes, and gives his winsome young stars plenty of room to shine, though neither rises above dull. Chaplin and Huston set off a few sparks in the flashbacks, which touch on North Carolina’s exalted place in the world of contemporary art, thanks to famed Black Mountain College.
But the moment that first letter is opened and its trite, moony expressions of love and pointless (in a love letter) pages of exposition are narrated, the movie turns Sparks insipid.
Consistent? The man’s a broken record, an LP on a crackly old record player in the high fructose corn syrup corner of Carolina. Near the beach. Bulls are optional.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexuality, partial nudity, and some war and sports action
Cast: Scott Eastwood, Britt Robertson, Alan Alda, Oona Chaplin, Jack Huston
Credits: Directed by George Tillman Jr., written by based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. A 20th Century Fox release.
Running time: 2:05