October 24, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT

The Best of Me

Current Status
In Season
117 minutes
Wide Release Date
Luke Bracey, James Marsden, Michelle Monaghan
Michael Hoffman
Relativity Media
We gave it a D

First things first. If you’re looking for the standard tropes of a Nicholas Sparks film adaptation, The Best of Me has all of ’em: the rain-soaked makeout session, the disapproving rich parents, the all-binding tragedies, the masculine man-hands clasped against a woman’s jawline—seemingly to prevent a bobblehead. But what you might not be prepared for is the comprehensive unpleasantness that shrouds this new film just to get cheap rises out of the audience. And it’s done in such a pummeling manner that you might wonder if that violent actioner playing in the next theater over at the multiplex isn’t so nasty after all.

The story takes off in an innocuous Sparksian fashion: Gorgeous rich lass (Liana Liberato, then Michelle Monaghan as the married, 20-years-older version) falls for gorgeous backroads boy with spectacular abs (Luke Bracey and later, James Marsden). And there’s more: The handsome guy escapes his evil, drug-dealing pa (Sean Bridgers, putting the ‘ick’ in ‘sick’ here) to live with a Sparks specialty: the Sensitive Grizzled Old Coot (played warmly by Gerald McRaney) whose name, naturally, is Tuck. As teens, the lovebirds embody more variations on the author’s themes: Scarred Hot Guy Who Really Likes Physics But Breeds Trouble and Spunky Girl Interested In Social Work Who Loves Him Against All Odds. But how long will their feverish dalliance last, with tragedy upon tragedy (and that’s a low estimate) constantly getting in their way? Oh, cruel fate. But then! Tuck’s death years later reunites the former sweethearts.

Even with lowered expectations toward escapist fare taken into account, the film is a long slog, with Marsden and Bracey conveying little but Crest smiles and smolder, while Liberato and Monaghan are stuck doing endless cry-face. (It’s a particular letdown to see Monaghan saddled with such drivel after her triumphant turn earlier this year as a similarly, but far more interestingly, unhappy wife in HBO’s True Detective.) For all of the eventfulness it jams into a (poorly edited) two-hour package, The Best Of Me ends up extracting the best of absolutely no one. D

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