When you walk into a theater to see a film based on a book by Nicholas Sparks, you know exactly what you're getting. Much like his previous adaptations, Nights in Rodanthe, A Walk to Remember and The Notebook, Dear John attempts to tug at the heartstrings. Unfortunately, it's so derivative of other romances, not to mention his previous big screen counterparts, that it comes off as hokey, a cloyingly sentimental exercise in derivativeness. You know that old cliché in these types of movies where somebody receives a letter and the writer of the letter is heard reading it through voice-over? Dear John is an hour and 40 minutes of that.
Channing Tatum plays John Tyree, a soldier in the US Army who is on leave for a couple of weeks and back visiting his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. After pretty girl Savannah, played by Amanda Seyfried, stupidly places her purse on the railing of a pier overtop the beach water causing it to fall off, she meets John who jumps in and grabs it for her. She invites him to a party she's throwing that night and sparks fly. Although John has another 12 months to serve, Savannah promises to wait for him. However, during this time, the attacks on September 11th occur which causes him to re-enlist. This means he will be gone for another two years while back home Savannah and his autistic father, played by Richard Jenkins, wait for him. To keep in touch, John and Savannah promise to write each other as often as they can and detail everything they do. This way, they will be with each other all the time even when they aren't at all.
Here's the thing about Dear John. The title obviously reflects back on what occurs in the movie, but a more accurate one would have simply been Montage. Dear John features the largest number of montages in any film in the last 20 years, perhaps ever. If it wasn't a montage that occurred over the aforementioned letter readings, it was while Savannah and John were together kissing and laughing like one of those couples you hate seeing in public. You know the ones; those gooey, mushy pairs who waltz around downtown like they're the only people there, unaware that you don't want to see them shove their tongues down each other's throats.
The thing about this film that irritated me the most though wasn't the annoying excess of montages, or even the manipulative attempt to make me cry. It was that I simply didn't care. It never gave me a reason to. Truth be told, nothing too tragic really occurs. That's not to say what does isn't sad, but considering the alternate possibilities, things could have been a whole lot worse. It went a different route than expected, which I appreciated, but in doing so it took away that emotional punch to the gut that this romance story so desperately needed.
If I'm being honest, Dear John isn't all that bad. It has problems, but it also has some high points. The way the film dealt with the tragedy of 9/11 was smart and focused. It didn't show the panic on a national scale. It showed how it affected a certain number of people in a seemingly small community and how it affected the soldiers, especially the ones already enlisted before the attacks, who found a renewed patriotism within themselves to stay and fight despite a waiting family back home.
The chemistry between Tatum and Seyfried was also surprisingly authentic. I bought their relationship, at least when they were together, though for much of the movie they were not. Their emotions ran the gamut during different situations and it was nice to see some flexibility in their acting, though Tatum is still not convincing during the more intense scenes.
All of that is handled with poise, but it's another one of those movies you watch and ask yourself when it's over: what's the point? There's nothing new about Dear John and its incessant use of cheesy montages will dissuade many from taking a liking to it. It's better than A Walk to Remember and Nights in Rodanthe, but doesn't come close to the effectiveness of The Notebook. Dear John rests squarely in the middle of those two extremes.
Dear John receives 2/5