Hollywood Product: Dear John
Sapfest makes Nights in Rodanthe look like Antichrist
GENRE: Star-crossed lovers
THE PITCH: Can John (Channing Tatum), a clean-cut Army special forces guy, and Savannah (Amanda Seyfried), an altruistic college student, sustain their romance through love letters, even after the dislocations of Sept. 11? The title Dear John does not bode well.
BEST CLICHÉS: John and Savannah exchange their first "real" kiss in a rainstorm. Separated by continents, the couple remembers each other when they cover the full moon with their thumbs. Later, rain equals sadness when John and his surfboard brood on a beach. The South Carolina Spanish moss looks all glowy in golden sunlight. John and his father ("Six Feet Under's" Richard Jenkins) bond over a rare Jefferson mule coin.
BEST LINE: "There's a neverending stream of curse words in my mind," Savannah none-too-convincingly tells John, to counter her goody two-shoes, don't-drink-don't-smoke image. (In fact, apart from a couple of "frickins," nobody ever swears.)
WORST LINE: "You just made your own fire. That's very impressive. Very primal," Savannah tells John, and doesn't sound like she's being sarcastic.
FLESH FACTOR: The numerous beach scenes give audiences plenty of time to ogle Seyfried's legs and/or Tatum's shoulders. They have a steamy coital clench that nevertheless shows nothing that would warrant the PG-13 rating.
BODY COUNT: A character suffers two bullet injuries in a combat zone. Other violence includes the briefest of fist fights and a glimpse of the World Trade Center collapse on TV. A couple of likeable characters pass away off camera.
FASHION STATEMENT: Savannah's ex-boyfriend – the frat-boy type for whom the term "douchey" was coined – sports a white Izod sweater because, of course he does.
PRODUCT PLACEMENT: The film's basically an ad for the U.S. Postal Service and barely mentions e-mail. Coca-Cola, Budweiser and Trailways make subtler appearances.
SOUNDTRACK HIGHLIGHT: Fans of the Mamma Mia! movie will enjoy Savannah playing guitar and singing "Little House." Fans of Once will enjoy the Swell Season's "The Moon." Joshua Radin and Schuyler Fisk's "Paperweight" is probably the best track for staring moistly into each other's eyes.
WILL YOU CRY? Probably not. With 20/20 hindsight, the script would've jerked more tears had it followed one of the other roles, especially since Tatum's acting suggests a less expressive, mush-mouthed Brendan Fraser. The weepiest scene takes place between one of the young folks and a parent in a hospital hall.
POLITICAL SUBTEXT: John's military service extends from 2001 through 2007, hinting at the duration of America's combat quagmires across the decade. The film does not, however, show Tatum joining the G.I. Joe team to combat the rise of Cobra.
FOR FURTHER VIEWING: Savannah aspires to open a summer camp/riding stable for autistic kids, including the son of a saintly single dad (E.T.'s Henry Thomas, the best thing in the movie). The documentary The Horse Boy explores the actual therapeutic connection of autism and equestrianism.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Nicholas Sparks' best-selling romance novels tend to become tame, overly chaste movies, but under Lasse Hallström's logy direction, Dear John makes Nights in Rodanthe look like Antichrist.