By Connie Ogle
The Miami Herald
The first thing you need to know about the latest adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel is that it won’t make you cry as hard as the last one (“The Notebook,” which no human being has ever sat through dry-eyed, not even Dick Cheney).

Sparks’ books have spawned the films “A Walk to Remember,” “Nights in Rodanthe,” “Message in a Bottle” and the upcoming “The Last Song” with Miley Cyrus, the idea of which is more than enough to make this reviewer sob openly. So your tear ducts are virtually guaranteed to get at least a brief workout during the romantic “Dear John,” in which a Special Forces soldier on leave (Channing Tatum, “G.I. Joe”) falls for big-hearted Charleston college girl Savannah (Amanda Seyfried of “Mamma Mia!”).

John (Tatum) isn’t much of a talker, possibly because of the reclusive, reserved nature of his possibly autistic father (Richard Jenkins), with whom John shares an arm’s-length relationship. Fortunately, a quick dive off the pier and the retrieval of a dropped purse capture the attention of Savannah, who is the sort of girl who doesn’t drink and spends spring break building a house for a homeless family. Hers is not unusual behavior in “Dear John;” almost everyone behaves with a courtly decorum greatly lacking in the real world.

The couple spends the rest of John’s leave together, and as long as they’re romping along the lovely Carolina shore life seems rosy and full of promise. Savannah even salvages John’s relationship with his dad to an extent. But soldiers have to go back to war. John and Savannah promise to write, with the plan that they’ll get back together when his tour of duty is over in two years.

hen 9-11 happens, and their future takes a much different turn.

“Dear John” is at its date-movie best in the first half; it’s the sort of pretty weeper that will draw young women in droves. Later on the film gets a bit bogged down in its noble ambitions. We’d like to believe people behave in such totally unselfish ways, but such goodness and charity leave director Lasse Hallstrom (“The Shipping News,” “Chocolat,” “The Cider House Rules”) without many shades of gray in his melodramatic palate. Worse, he makes the colossal mistake of shortchanging the diehard romantics by wrapping up the story too suddenly; you literally feel startled when the credits roll.

Still, there’s an audience for old-fashioned romance, and “Dear John” will please most of it, given its attractive cast, cozy beach settings and brazenly uplifting outlook on human nature. The movie looks good. It just doesn’t bear much resemblance to the way most of us live.

Film focus
WHAT: “Dear John”
RATED: PG-13, some sensuality, violence.
RATING: 2½ stars
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes


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