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Despite Sparks' recent track record, 'The Longest Ride' is likable
Scott Eastwood portrays Luke, a former champion bull rider looking to make a comeback. - photo by Doug Wright
Well, I might be drummed out of the Utah Film Critic Association for this, but Im man enough to admit that I actually like the new film The Longest Ride, based on a Nicholas Sparks story.

There, its done and maybe Im done.

Now dont get me wrong. Ive given some of the films based on Sparks' writing good reviews in the past. But lately they have become so predictable, formulaic and tragically syrupy. For most critics, these movies have become an ordeal.

But theres something about this one that got me.

So whats the difference? Im not sure. It might have been the freshness of Clint Eastwoods son Scott in the lead role as Luke, a South Carolina bull rider. Or it could be the chemistry between Luke and Sophia (Britt Robinson), the young art student he falls in love with. It might have been the weight of a veteran actor like Alan Alda starring as Ira Levinson, a pivotal character to the primary story and a secondary tale that unfolds in flashbacks. Maybe its the fact that Im a sucker for the look and feel of the late 1930s and 40s, where Iras love story with his beloved Ruth blooms.

Or maybe its just not that complicated. Maybe I was just in the humor for syrupy and predictable.

The story opens with the chance meeting of Luke, a world-class bull rider, and Sophia, a Wake Forest art student. Things evolve into an official first date that goes very well until Sophia explains that soon shell be leaving for a coveted art internship in New York basically taking the wind from the sails as both consider the futility of a short-term relationship. On the way home, Luke spots a car that has careened off the road and is on fire. He extracts the elderly driver, and Sophia hears the victim ask for a box left on the seat.

Ah, vintage Sparks.

While waiting at the hospital for word on the condition of the victim, we come to know Ira. Sophia cant resist a peek in the box and discovers its stuffed with letters. Of course, she cant resist reading one. When she finally has the chance to visit with the cantankerous Ira, who is less than a model patient, she melts his heart by reading a letter to him, and a friendship is forged.

Thus begins the weaving together of two love stories.

The letters reveal the lives of Ira and Ruth. Oona Chaplin, Charlie Chaplins granddaughter, is delightful as Ruth, a beautiful, spunky lover of art whose Jewish family escaped to America just before the outbreak of World War II. Ira is smitten at first sight. As the past unfolds, the future takes shape for Sophia and Luke.

Will Luke give up bull riding, especially in light of a previous injury that makes the sport even more lethal? Will Sophia flee to New York, pursue her art career and leave Luke in the dust? Can they stay away from each other?

And this being a Nicholas Sparks story, does somebody die? Of course, but not tragically.

While I might be pummeled by my fellow critics, I like this movie. Be aware that it includes sexuality and partial nudity.