Think of "Dear John" as post-911 America lite; very lite. Where a film like Kimberly Pierce's "Stop-Loss" (2008) drew you into an unaffected universe of American military oppression its own troops, "Dear John" wants to punish and blame its Special Forces soldier John (Channing Tatum) via his head, heart, and libido. For as much blame as Nicholas Sparks deserves for writing the soft soap novel that this heart-sleeve mockery is based on, it's Lasse Halstrom's lacking direction that perpetually pulls the audience out of the puffy romantic wartime equation onscreen. Certainly, Lasse Halstrom films beautiful sun kissed compositions that reek with the odorless endorphins of his love struck characters. But it's not a style that serves Sparks's already affected material. South Carolina's warm summer beaches provide the tiny waves that John surfs on while visiting his autistic father (thanklessly played by Richard Jenkins), whose coin collecting obsession substitutes for a thematic throughline. A beach pier meet-cute with rich girl Savannah (Amanda Seyfried) snowballs into a raging long distance romance that gets a major monkey wrench tossed in when the attacks of 9/11 spell an extended tour of duty for John, who was on the brink of getting out when the attacks occurred. John finds out the hard way that love won't wait forever, and the audience gets treated to the most bone-headed reaction shot of the decade, courtesy of Amanda Seyfried upon hearing about the death of a loved one. Even as weepy, "Dear John" fall short of turning on the waterworks.
Rated PG-13. 102 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)
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