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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Longest Ride 2015 * * * Stars

The Longest RideDirector: George Tillman Jr.
Year: 2015
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Britt Robertson, Scott Eastwood, Alan Alda

I don't read much and I've only seen three flicks adapted from Nicholas Sparks novels (A Walk to Remember, Message in a Bottle, and the one I'm currently reviewing). From what I've gathered, I know that any film he's attached to usually takes place in North Carolina. I also know that every movie poster baring his name looks the same (hunky man puts his hands on beautiful woman's face with his eyes somberly gazing at her). And I figure that every Sparks plot point involves young, syrupy love with romance touted as cotton candy confection. So does that qualify me to review 2015's The Longest Ride? Sure, why not. It's my job you know, to write about cinema. And surprisingly, this one is a "ride" worth getting on at least once.

I faithfully announce this vehicle as a long-winded, yet well-intentioned romantic drama. Its star is Scott Eastwood and you're probably wondering why I nodded towards him right off the bat. Well, he's the 29 year-old son of legendary actor Clint Eastwood. And with every profile turn, every aw-shucks smirk, and every story eyed resemblance, you swear it was Clint circa 1956. He's got the looks, he's got the screen presence, but the acting still needs a little work. Does he have the chops to become a full-blooded movie star? Oh for sure. It's just a hunch but I'm thinking he'll get there soon enough.

Directed by George Tillman Jr. (Notorious, Men of Honor) and written by the same guy who was actually responsible for the script of a Miami Vice episode (Craig Bolotin), "Ride" has a title that doesn't really involve bull riding (as the trailer wholeheartedly suggests). It's much more than that. From what I got out of it, "the longest ride" refers to the journey of a person's life. You know, the joys, the trials and tribulations, the labor of it all. This is a film where its characters are good people, attractive people, and have good fortunes coming their way. It all ties into the ending. I won't reveal anything but the last ten minutes might make you feel jealous and mushy all at the same time. Pure saccharine gold if I do say so myself.

The story begins by chronicling two opposites in Luke Collins (Eastwood) and Sophia Danko (Britt Robertson). He's a bull rider who's trying to become the best in the world. She's a student at Wake Forest University and I guess, is either vowing to become a successful art dealer or just a well renowned artist in general. They meet at a rodeo, are attracted to each other, make assorted googly eyes towards one another, and eventually go on a date. But wait, how can they fall in love when she has to go away to New York City in a month? And what about Luke? He continues to participate in a violent sport where you've gotta hang on to a bucking bull for 8 seconds. He causes Sophia and his mother (Kate Collins played by Lolita Davidovich) to worry as his health deteriorates. This creates a conflict and hinders their relationship almost kaput. So in an act of kismet, they are driving along a country road when they see a car accident and a older man (Ira Levinson played by Alan Alda. He is somehow also connected to the art world, wink wink) who is near death. Luke and Sophia save him from the burning wreck along with his collection of letters to his wife (these letters are in the front seat of his car). While recovering in a hospital, Ira tells stories to Sophia about how he fell in love with said wife over 50 years ago. He subliminally tries to help her relationship with her cowboy by doing this.

The Longest Ride then veers into something I wasn't expecting. It becomes a combination of two love stories, one told in present day and one told in flashbacks. The film kind of has an overbearing level of coincidence. It also contains a broken, arduous narrative as you anxiously wait to see how these two stories are fully connected. The sequences (shot with accurate period detail) from the past however, happened to be the best parts. Young Ira played by Jack Huston and wife Ruth (played by Oona Chaplin) inject "Ride" with a level of deepened maturity that sort of outplays the romantic interludes of Luke and Sophia. There are some genuine moments here. I didn't need any handkerchiefs but during the screening I was at, I might have been in the minority.

Now despite some strengths in The Longest Ride, the gleaming Carolina sunshine and picturesque landscapes can't mask a flaw or two. For starters, this thing registers as yet another romantic drama where the female lead (Robertson) looks a little too young to subject herself to risque PG-13 love scenes (I'm sorry but it just came off as sort of creepy to me). There's also the aspect in Sparks movies (including this one) where young couples fight over the most trivial things. It's forced manipulation and in one scene, there is a tiff over whether paintings of squiggly lines are art or not. Oy vey! Finally, we have Alan Alda's Ira who seems different in personality and mannerisms than his self of over half a century ago. Huston plays the man as humble, good-natured, and solemn. Alda although a fine actor in his own right, shrugs off Ira as grumpy, cantankerous, and destitute. Maybe it's the old age aspect of his character. Who knows.

All and all, I'd say The Longest Ride serves as an admirable date night selection. If you can get past some of the earlier, cheesy dialogue and minor missteps in structure, there's something more palatable beneath the surface. Oh and watch out for the bull riding scenes at various intervals. They are intense, mightily violent, and extremely well filmed. My rating: A harmless 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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