• Casting makes ‘Longest Ride’ strong choice
• Eastwood charms his way through love story
• Movie should have been a shorter ‘Ride’
Movies based on books by Nicholas Sparks — “The Notebook,” “The Lucky One,” “Dear John” and now “The Longest Ride” — follow a predictable pattern. Attractive people meet, fall in love, deal with some adversity and then live happily ever after.
Because the productions are so predictable, the strength of the story rests on the quality of the casting.
“The Longest Ride” features one of the most emotionally connected couples since Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams starred in “The Notebook.” Scott Eastwood’s good ol’ boy Southern gentleman is sweetly charming. He’s perfectly matched with Britt Robertson, who has grown since the under-appreciated CW Network series “Life Unexpected.”
Eastwood plays Luke Collins, a professional bull rider who is making a comeback after a bullish accident a year ago. He should change professions, but he’s driven to prove — mostly to himself — that he still has what it takes to be a champion.
Robertson’s Sophia Danko is a Wake Forest University senior headed toward a big city life in an art house. She’s persuaded to stop studying and attend a rodeo and meets Luke. Sophia initially balks at a relationship because of her career plans, but she is won over by cowboy charm.
This is a familiar ploy by Sparks. He often brings together people from different worlds, which automatically creates a hurdle for their relationship.
The writer also falls back to an element of “The Notebook” with a parallel story of a young Jewish couple — Ira (Jack Huston) and Ruth (Oona Chaplin) — as told to the current-day lovers by the now 90-something Ira (Alan Alda). Luke and Sophia meet Ira through a traffic accident. She becomes fascinated with him through a box of letters he wrote to his wife.
This plot form of generational stories works. It shows that falling in love comes with pain and pleasure no matter the era. It also sets up a second emotional hurdle that doubles up on the tear-inducing elements.
The flashbacks are good, but the strength of “The Longest Ride” comes from watching Robertson and Eastwood together. This isn’t a case of lust at first sight. These two people have such embraceable qualities that you want them to find happiness.
Their journey follows very predictable lines. Both have to face major decisions about sacrifice if they want to stay together. That conflict isn’t as intense in this Sparks film as it has been in others because there’s never a question of how the romance will end.
Director George Tillman Jr., shows a solid skill, whether it’s taking his time in scenes with the couple or presenting the high-kicking world of bull riding. The staging of the rides is a little off — riders at this level would be in front of much bigger crowds. But, it’s the action in the arena, and not the stands, that’s important.
There are times when “The Longest Ride” feels like a long ride because of the two story lines. A little tightening would have helped, especially with the flashback story. But the film never feels bloated.
Watching a Sparks movie is like taking a ride through the Tunnel of Love. No matter how it twists and turns, you always know where it will end.