Movie News & Reviews

Plot twist balances sickly sweetness of 'Dear John'

I've come to the conclusion that, with the exception of PointBreak, for every scene you place on a beach, your movie ends up10% more boring.

I think this has a lot to do with the rhythms of the beach itself.

-- Local show times, theaters, trailer.

Hop in the ocean and stand there shivering with the waves just below yournipples, then jump out five minutes later after you finally admit it'stoo cold or get scared because you can't see under the surface whereyou're probably about to get attacked by a twenty-tentacled horrorfrom the abyss. Spend 40 minutes lying in the sand pretendingyou're good-looking enough to expose your almost-naked body to thepublic eye. When the skin starts to peel from you like the layers of amushy onion, shiver back into the tides for five more minutes. Repeat.

Other than the chance of a freak wave rolling in to snatch uploose-leashed dogs or bikini tops, it's hardly a high-tension setting.Bear this in mind next time you're wondering how anything featuring somuch bare skin can be so untitillating, as with Dear John.

On leave from special forces in the spring of 2001, Channing Tatumruns into Amanda Seyfried on the Charleston, S.C. beach. Neither is inposition for a relationship — Tatum is due back in two weeks, andSeyfried will return to college after the summer — but they fall foreach other. Hard.

They keep in touch through letters, making plans to get back togetherwhen Tatum's tour ends in a year. 9/11 changes everything. When Tatumdecides to extend his tour at the risk of their relationship, makingit work isn't going to be easy.

Then again, neither is sitting through Dear John. Not that it'soutright, screamingly terrible. If anything, it's the opposite: kindaOK, kinda OK and then it's 30 minutes later and you're notreally annoyed by anything, but you're still waiting for theinteresting stuff to show up because come on already.

Then you're lulled back in, one pleasant moment at a time. This movieis so gentle you could ship kittens in it. Director Lasse Hallstrom isan old enough hand to keep it moving from A to B without any obviousflubs, but what's missing is any kind of spark. (Why yes, thatis a gloriously lazy pun on source novelist Nicholas Sparks'name. Thanks for asking!)

I've never totally understood what people mean when they say theromantic leads lack chemistry — how are they judging this, exactly?Number of times their pants tent up during the screening? — but youcould apply that criticism to Tatum and Seyfried, who turn in decentindividual performances without finding much of one as a couple.

This may be because so much of Dear John is static. They meet,have a good time, walk around with their hands wedged so deep in eachothers' pockets their skin becomes melded to the denim, etc. Meanwhileany signs of trouble or tension are off napping under a tree. Withoutany challenges to overcome, their characters come off as boring. Thatand they are boring. Try telling a joke sometime, people.

Tranquilized, perhaps, by all that inoffensive dullness, I expectedthe plot would be much more predictable than it ended up. I'll admit athird-act curveball or two softened me up. It should be hateable, butDear John is the kind of movie that grows on you, if onlybecause you have to spend so damn much time with it along the way.

Grade: C