Author Nicholas Sparks' weepie formula is becoming overly familiar. Here is another handsome, taciturn loner (Zac Efron), another melancholy Southern belle in distress (Taylor Schilling), another maudlin melodrama with a third-act death. This instalment in Sparks' one-man genre shares its DNA with Dear John, with Efron as another unlikely warrior-poet. But this one at times wanders into unintentional comedy. Efron is a decent actor but reins it in to the point of nothing, and while Schilling is fine, it's left to Blythe Danner as her feisty grandmother to bring any life to affairs. It looks gorgeous; Shine director Scott Hicks shoots America like it's Eden, Efron walking from Colorado to North Carolina with nary a highway or mall in sight. But pretty pictures can't distract from its faded clichés and lack of, ahem, spark.
The Notebook may have had us blubbing but since then Nicholas Sparks adaptions have offered thin pickings for cinemagoers. For all Efron's boyish charms, this one could be the most ordinary of the lot.