Title: The Longest Ride
Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote: "But Aquaman, you cannot marry a woman without gills! You're from two different worlds!"
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: One Toro from Bully for Bugs out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Nubile art student messes with the bull (rider), gets the horn.
Tagline: "Two couples. Two love stories. One epic tale."
Better Tagline: "All hat. No cattle."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Professional bull rider Luke Collins (Scott Eastwood) is attempting a career comeback after recently suffering a serious injury (and as the PBR announcers remind us at least four times, nothing is harder than a career comeback; not cancer, defeating the Spartans at Thermopylae, nothing). What he hadn't factored into his efforts was falling for graduating Wake Forest senior Sophia Danko (Britt Robertson), who — darn the luck — is moving to New York in a couple of months. Will true love win out before Luke is stomped to death by 1,500 pounds of bovine fury? And what does the elderly dude who crashed his car (Alan Alda) have to do with anything?
"Critical" Analysis: A fellow critic and I were sitting in the theater, awaiting the Longest Ride screening with whatever the opposite of "eagerness" is, and trying to come up with names for the previous 10(!) Nicholas Sparks adaptations. We didn't do a very good job:
"The one on the beach." (Nights in Rodanthe) "The one where Cobie Smulders was a ghost." (Safe Haven) "The one where it rained a lot." (The Notebook) "The one where Channing Tatum had a sad." (Dear John) "The...other one on the beach." (Message in a Bottle)
In spite, or perhaps because, of snotty critical disdain, Sparks's movies have historically performed quite adequately at the box office (even 2014's relatively anemic The Best of Me). This makes a certain amount of sense. Straight romance has suffered in recent years at the hands of superheroes and with the emergence of the gross-out rom-com, so maybe the audience for those movies is just thankful for what they can get.
The Longest Ride is mostly indistinguishable from any other Sparks adaptation. At this point, there really should be a template: all you really need are two attractive (and usually young) white people, dump some rain on them to get them all damp and hormonal, make sure one person drives a pickup truck, and throw in a subplot involving love letters from a past romance to demonstrate how true love is eternal. Cue Lady Antebellum song.
The conflict, such as it is, arises from Sophia's impending internship in NYC and its potential monkey wrenching of Luke's comeback (the hardest thing there is or ever will be, recall). Luke is compelled to keep competing in order to save his family's cattle ranch so Mom (Lolita Davidovich) won't end up living in a...slightly smaller home. This is very selfless of him, we learn two-thirds of the way through the film, because the injury he previously suffered could kill him at any time, like Homer Simpson.
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Naturally, there's a past romance. On their first date, Sophia and Luke rescue an old man and his box of letters from a car wreck. The man, Ira Levinson (Alda), tells Sophia of his love of and marriage to Ruth (Oona Chaplin) in the 1940s. *Their* big problem was an inability to have children, due to an injury Ira suffered in WWII.
Ira's injury, like Luke's, is ambiguous. This demonstrates another of Sparks's trademarks: half-assing two stories and mashing them together to construct one narrative. Generic romance, generic tragedy (it's not really a spoiler, Ira's an old dude). And it gives us one hell of a juxtaposition: professional bull-riding and a wartime Jewish romance. Maybe Sparks could split the action in his next book between the world of anime cosplay and Appalachian coal miners, or a clown college and the reign of the Borgias. Go nuts, dude.
It's also hard to believe the director of this is actually George Tillman Jr., he of Soul Food, Notorious and the Barbershop movies. Truly, Sparks's Caucasian dreariness is a force from which nothing, not even passably interesting directorial techniques, can escape. A white hole, if you will.
The bull riding itself was actually somewhat enjoyable (here's hoping TLR wins a Visual Effects Oscar solely for the many impressive sprays of mucus), but that's assuming you (rightfully) root for the bull. The only thing missing was if "Rango," the bull that injured Luke, turned out to be the son of the bull that killed Luke's dad (note: This is not how Luke's dad died). Because any Sparks movie could only be improved by a vengeful beast bent on destroying an entire family, a la Jaws: The Revenge.