There is but one plot template in the notebook (computer) of Nicholas Sparks.
Love. “Endless Love.” With an emphasis on the “endless” part.
The tales are set in Coastal Carolina. When they’re turned into movies, sometimes the actors take the trouble to learn to drawl.
There’s romance tinged with tragedy, the joy of new love with a hint of sadness.
And sand. There’s always sand. Unless some fool is trying to pass off the rocky shores of Maine for the sandy Outer Banks of N.C. in “Message in a Bottle.”
“The Choice” is another endless, nearly-sinless-in-the-sun Sparks melodrama, one that benefits from a couple of charming leads and some folksy, down home humor.
But that title frames it in tragedy. And that “choice” leaves this tepid romance mired in the maudlin.
Benjamin Walker (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”) is Travis, a rich, dashing lady’s man, the “catch” of Wilmington/Wrightsville Beach, N.C. And that’s not just because he has the nicest fishing boat.
Fishing, like flirting, is a hobby. All he has to do is turn on that Carolina drawl and even the saltier, Daisy Duke-clad hotties melt. And clean up their language.
“You kiss your Mamma with that potty mouth?”
Teresa Palmer, of “Warm Bodies” and “Point Break,” is Gabby, who has the waterfront cottage next door to the showplace Travis calls home. She’s a resident at the local hospital whose studies and classical music listening are ruined by the party boy and his loud music.
“Could you BE any more obnoxious?”
“You have NO idea.”
That “meet cute” moment is chased by a canine love affair that puts them together in the same veterinary clinic. And that’s where the sparks — ahem — fly.
Travis is challenged by how challenging Gabby is. “There you go again, botherin’ me!”
Gabby’s choice? She’s engaged to Dr. Ryan (Tom Welling). She needs to choose between two suitors. Since the first scene in the movie, narrated by Travis, is set in a hospital, we can guess that’s not the only “choice” here.
Tom Wilkinson lends a light twinkle to Shep, veterinarian dad to Travis. The rest of the supporting cast takes its twinkling cues from him.
The script is sprinkled with dopey profundities — “A man with one chair likes to sit alone.” A barbecue invitation is strictly casual. Let’s “throw some read meat on the grill, tell a few lies.”
There’s waterfront dining, dinghy treks to a deserted island after dark, hard feelings and a lot of time passes. A LOT. An integrated church where the choir sings Joe Cocker’s favorite Dave Mason (Traffic) song, “Feelin’ Alright.”
All of which is such predictable pablum that “The Choice” outstays its welcome by a good half hour. As usual, the “love” part almost works. It’s the “endless” and drawn out finale that is makes us wish we’d chosen a better way to use our time.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content and some thematic issues
Cast: Teresa Palmer, Benjamin Walker, Tom Wilkinson, Tom Welling
Credits: Directed by Ross Katz, script by Bryan Sipe, based on the Nicholas Sparks. A Lionsgate release.
Running time: 1:51