"The Longest Ride" is the latest movie based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. He specializes in romance, and movies based on his works are notoriously mushy. "The Longest Ride" is no exception. The film is filled with young lovers on picnics, beach trips, lake-swimming, horse rides and in PG-13 love scenes. If that's not your thing, let's just say you're in for a long ride. If that is your thing, you probably still won't love this movie because its characters and conflicts aren't that interesting.

The film's main couple is Sophia (Britt Robertson) and Luke (Scott Eastwood). She's a promising art student and he's a professional bull rider. They fall in love despite her not seeing the appeal of bull riding and him not seeing the appeal of modern art. While driving home from a date, they see a crashed car and pull an old man named Ira (Alan Alda) out of the wreckage. He forms a friendship with the young couple, and tells them stories about his own romance with his wife Ruth (Oona Chaplin to Jack Huston as young Ira). It should go without saying that there are a few parallels between the relationships with lessons to be taken away.

Young Ira and Ruth hit a rough patch when she wants a big family and he can't give her children because of a war injury (Alda is about 15 years too young to play a modern-day WWII veteran, which is distracting). Ruth becomes a teacher and tries to take custody of a neglected student, but it doesn't work out and she has a falling out with Ira over the kind of life he can provide for her. He makes a sacrifice for her, she makes a sacrifice for him, and the lesson is if you truly love someone, you'll make sacrifices for them.

Sophia and Luke are of course conflicted over their individual passions. If the two stay on their currents paths, they'll end up living in different cities carrying on an icy long-distance relationship. Or maybe they'll just break up entirely. At any rate, we wait impatiently for them to realize that they may love their vocations, but they love each other even more. Then it's just a matter of figuring out who has to sacrifice what for the other.

Luke's bull-riding is especially problematic for the relationship. He's already had to spend a year on the shelf with an injury, and next time he gets bucked off he might not be so lucky. Sophia constantly has to worry about his safety. Luke insists he has to ride for dubious financial reasons. He never seems to get a rewarding feeling out of it. The movie never succeeds in making bull-riding look appealing, if that's what it's trying to do. The rides are only eight seconds long, the riders are in danger, their loved ones are scared, and the bulls don't want to be ridden. Nobody wins except maybe airheaded girls in the audience who like to ogle the male riders in their cowboy getup.

There is an incredibly stupid twist at the end of this movie at an art auction. A few seeds are planted as to what it is, but I thought there had to be another way. Maybe I was misreading the clues. Or maybe the movie would carry it out, but do so in a more rational way than I was picturing in my head. Nope, they just go ahead and do it with full-on craziness. As a romance, this movie is going to be quickly forgotten. As a movie with an awful twist, it will go down in history as one of the doozies.

One and a Half Stars out of Five

"The Longest Ride" is rated PG-13 for some sexuality, partial nudity, and some war and sports action. Its running time is 139 minutes.

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