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Boring 'Longest Ride' feels like Nicholas Sparks Lite
Scott Eastwood portrays Luke, a former champion bull rider looking to make a comeback. - photo by Josh Terry
Husbands and boyfriends, be warned: Its been less than a year since the last Nicholas Sparks film, but The Longest Ride is here to threaten your date nights.

The good news is that Longest Ride is a step up from last years comically awful The Best of Me, which threw film critics and Sparks-haters a cinematic softball right over the middle of the plate.

The bad news is that even in muted form, all the same Sparks-isms are still present. Death, flashbacks, convenient plot twists, contrived endings and sex scenes that feel a little too uncomfortable for a PG-13 rating.

The paradox of The Longest Ride is that by showing more respect for the intelligence of his audience, director George Tillman Jr. has delivered a more reasonable film. But without the drama, its also a lot less entertaining.

True to form, it all boils down to a guy and a girl. Luke (Scott Eastwood yes, that Eastwood) is a manly man. Raised on a cattle ranch, he now rides bulls for a living, presumably because he has to support his widowed mother. He is also easy on the eyes. We know this because women swoon wherever he goes, and the PA announcer proclaims it to the crowd before Luke rides his bull.

The girl is Sophia (Britt Robertson). She is intelligent and beautiful. She is a college senior majoring in art history, which is nice to know, because she doesnt look old enough to be drinking. An exclusive internship in New York is waiting for her upon graduation.

They meet, go on a date and on the way home, Luke pulls Alan Alda from a burning Cadillac. Alda plays Ira Levinson, the male half of Longest Rides second couple. Sophia reads Iras old letters to him in the hospital, and flashbacks fill us in on his story.

Thus, Longest Ride becomes two movies for the price of one, toggling between a pair of North Carolina odd couples linked by a car crash and a love of abstract fine art. Iras wife Ruth (Oona Chaplin) was into art herself and collected paintings from the very artists Sophia is studying now.

The surface parallels eventually yield to deeper themes. Both couples wrestle with compatibility, sacrifice and disappointment. Sophia loves art, but doesnt want to leave Luke. Luke loves Sophia, but he has unfinished business with a bull named Rango.

Ira and Ruths predicament feels more genuine. Ira loves Ruth, but a war injury leaves him unable to have children. Ruth loves Ira, but her dreams for family get tougher to sacrifice as time goes on.

The two narratives alternate for long stretches, long enough that jumping from a romantically hued 1950s scene to a present-day bull ride feels jarring. The stories relate, but they also dont, and two underdeveloped plots add up to one long, underdeveloped movie.

Alda adds an air of dignity to the effort, even if his role is limited to voiceovers and lying in a hospital bed most of the time. Robertson hits the traditional beats as Sophia, and Eastwoods performance is mostly obscured by his resemblance to his dad.

Longest Ride feels sincere, and is a clear improvement on the last Sparks offering, but its relative lack of melodrama and general shortcomings make it unlikely that it will climb among the most beloved Sparks adaptations like The Notebook. Overall, its a pretty dull date night for all interested parties.

The Longest Ride includes sexual content, profanity and some wartime and rodeo action violence, including enough slow-motion airborne bull snot to make you rethink your visit to the concessions stand.

"The Longest Ride is rated PG-13 for some sexualtiy, partial nudity and some war and sports action; running time: 125 minutes.