There are plenty of ways to know you’re watching a film based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. Young love, pretty people kissing in the rain, and the death of a major character are just three. The biggest factor is usually how bad the movie is. With the exception of The Notebook — and, to a lesser degree, A Walk to Remember — there hasn’t been a single good film in Sparks’ growing filmography. His movies are usually hilariously bad, with only the dumbest of moviegoers falling prey, and this weekend’s Sparks offering, The Best of Me, never rises above his typical clichés, even with two very likeable leads.
Dawson Cole (James Marsden) works on an oil rig until an explosion throws him into the ocean. Doctors are baffled that he wasn’t killed and now Dawson is convinced that there must be a reason he survived. While floating in the ocean, Dawson also has a vision of his long lost high school love Amanda (Liana Liberato). Soon after, Dawson and Amanda (played as an adult by Michelle Monaghan) are called back to their hometown to hear the will reading of their old friend Tuck (Gerald McRaney). Now, Dawson and Amanda are forced to reconcile the past, seen in flashbacks (with Dawson played here by Luke Bracey) from 1992. Meanwhile, Amanda is also facing the truth of her strained marriage and the two must battle a rekindling old flame.
The Best of Me is chock full of everything you’ve come to expect from a Sparks production, and it’s a shame. Monaghan and Marsden make a nice enough couple, and even their teenage versions work well together. That is if you can get past the fact that Marsden and Bracey look absolutely nothing alike. They don’t even have the same eye color. Prison sure does change a man, something a surprisingly hilarious line by Amanda when she complains that Dawson has only gotten better looking after 21 years.
There is also dumb subplot dragging out the runtime involving Dawson’s abusive drug-trafficking dad (Sean Bridgers) and character actions that are none too honorable. It’s too bad screenwriters Will Fetters and J. Mills Goodloe are stuck adapting a Sparks novel because The Best of Me features some of the worst dialogue of the year. Director Michael Hoffman also directs every scene with as much schmaltz as he can wring out for full diabetic sappiness. The Best of Me is ultimately an oxymoron as it only brings out the worst of Sparks.
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