[Screen It]


(2016) (Benjamin Walker, Teresa Palmer) (PG-13)

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Drama: Despite a rocky start, neighbors in a small coastal town end up falling for each other.
In a small coastal North Carolina town, Gabby Holland (TERESA PALMER) is a medical student who's just moved in next door to Travis Shaw (BENJAMIN WALKER). The two immediately clash, what with Travis' small parties with his friends and on-again, off-again girlfriend, Monica (ALEXANDRA DADDARIO), disturbing her studies. But Travis' charming southern ways -- that he also uses as a veterinarian working alongside his widowed father, Shep (TOM WILKINSON) -- have an effect on Gabby. That's all too obvious to Travis' sister, Stephanie (MAGGIE GRACE), and notwithstanding Gabby having a boyfriend in Ryan (TOM WELLING), a local doctor.

Despite their initial, half-hearted adversarial interactions, a spark develops between Travis and Gabby, especially when Ryan goes away for a few weeks for work. From that point on, the two must decide what their relationship means, and must contend with unexpected developments.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
I know next to nothing about author Nicholas Sparks except that he's a prolific writer of romantic tearjerker dramas that get turned into movies that seemingly come out every single year. In truth, a few years have been skipped, but if you consider the double-up in 2010 with "Dear John" and "The Last Song" as taking 2011's entry, we've had one of these flicks for the past seven years straight.

Considering there are others waiting in the wings and assuming newer works that are yet to be published, Sparks could end up in the running for the most adapted author of all time. But there's the fact that most of those adaptations, while money-makers to varying degrees, haven't been accepted with positive opening arms by the majority of film critics (only "The Notebook" comes in above the 50% mark).

I've tried to flush most of them from my memory (for self-preservation), and thus the following assessment might be a bit over-reaching. Yet, it certainly seems the one constant in most of his works is the Grim Reaper who's seemingly always waiting in the wings, ready to strike in any number of ways. I can't remember enough of them to say in how many he's successful at doing the deed.

Even so, whenever one is watching one of these filmed adaptations -- and hasn't read the novel on which it's based -- it always becomes a "Clue" like guessing game where viewers try to figure out who's going to die, get ill, or otherwise face some sort of tragedy, not to mention when that will occur and by what means.

That's once again the case in "The Choice," based on Sparks' 2007 novel of the same name. It opens immediately with Travis (Benjamin Walker) in a hospital, facing some sort of titular decision, while in voice-over he tells us that life is defined by the choices one makes. That's followed by the inevitable flashback -- this time a seven-year rewind -- to events that will lead us back to that moment.

Since he's seemingly healthy, it's automatically assumed the Reaper doesn't have his sights set on him. Instead, the likely targets are the attractive woman (Teresa Palmer) who's just moved in next door to him; his sister (Maggie Grace) who's the first to recognize that her brother and that woman are destined to be together despite Gabby initially disliking him from the get-go; or perhaps the siblings' father (Tom Wilkinson), the most likely due to his age. Then again, it could be the would-be girlfriend, or maybe Travis' ex-girlfriend (Alexandra Daddario). Or even his pet dog (although that would seem weird in a hospital and considering he plays a veterinarian).

I digress, but I'll leave the answer unanswered (it's not Mrs. White at the hands of Colonel Mustard via a dagger in the lounge) just to build up the suspense (much like the guessing game of how many montages will appear in the film).

Until then, director Ross Katz -- working from the screenplay adaptation by Bryan Sipe -- maneuvers the plot in expected ways of a southern hunk literally charming the pants off his new neighbor, all while his sister and father dispense life advice, and Daddario and Tom Welling's characters are around to provide complications to the budding romance as current or on-again, off-again love interests to the main characters.

If you enjoy previous films stemming from Sparks' novels, I imagine you'll likely have the same reaction as it pretty much follows the same formula. If you haven't found those others to your liking, this one won't change your mind. It doesn't really turn manipulatively bad until the third act when it suddenly rushes through the years to get to the point of cueing Mr. Reaper, but that and the retreading of familiar material doesn't do the film any favors. If I were you, I'd choose to see something other than "The Choice." It rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed January 29, 2016 / Posted February 5, 2016

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