'John' like gruel congealed


POSTED: Monday, February 08, 2010

Dear God, the sap is running in “;Dear John.”; No, make that gushing. I suppose there will always be a market for gauzy, picture-book romance movies featuring two gorgeous people making eyes at each other. But come on! “;Dear John,”; particularly with its massive dramatic cheat of a last scene, makes you want to hurl something at the screen. That is, if you aren't weeping through your third box of tissues.

In the movie based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, John, played by Channing Tatum, an inverted pyramid of sculpted man-flesh, is a soldier on leave for a couple of weeks on a Carolina beach, where apparently he is the only surfer on the East Coast.

Savannah, played by Amanda Seyfried, is some sort of sylph goddess with the sort of smile that can ignite bonfires. Oh, she loves helping backward children. It's her mission.





        Rated: PG-13

Now playing in theaters






John and Savannah fall bum-over-breadbasket for each other in their short time together, but alas, she's going back to school, and he has that pesky Army duty overseas.

And so they write each other. Write, write, write. As if e-mail and telephones had not yet been invented. Of course, then you couldn't do a whispery montage showing lovers writing, and reading, and voice-overs, and nice sunsets, and there must be a puppy or a horsie in there somewhere. And they both have nice penmanship.

There must be an obstacle to true love, mustn't there? It's only the first half of the movie. In this case it's 2001, and oops, al-Qaida makes things difficult for pretty young people.

War breaks out. John flexes a face muscle and re-ups, 'cause that's what the other grunts are doing. I should mention here that Tatum has the stolid, silent-type locked down pat, almost as if he were playing an Easter Island moai.

Eventually John gets the dreaded Dear John letter, a development causing the movie to downshift into a slower gear, more gauze added over the lens and minor-key music to be ladled, tinkling, over the goings-on.

It's like a pan of gruel warming on the stove, but the burner has gone out and the ever-more-tepid gruel congeals. It doesn't even become decent mush.

The last half of the film is excruciating, as all the obvious hints troweled on in the first half come to pass like clockwork, and without a sense of real loss or, better yet, longing.

Tatum and Seyfried have a skosh of chemistry together, Seyfried particularly, with her bulging, watery eyes leaking on cue.

There are two quite good performances hidden in here. Richard Jenkins is extraordinary as John's slightly addled father, and Henry Thomas has a large cameo as a neighbor with—you guessed it—a slightly addled son.

Tech credits are first rate. Carolina surf, however, breaks sloppy and muddy. Stay out of the water.