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film review

James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan emote with careworn sincerity.Gemma LaMana

When handsome, socially awkward bayou boy Dawson Cole falls for perky, ambitious rich girl Amanda, it seems the couple may triumph despite his (curiously all-male) drug-dealing hillbilly family and her rich snob father. But tragedy intervenes and, years later, they meet for the reading of a common friend's will. Passion is rekindled, but how long can it last?

Around two hours is par for the course for a movie based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. After 18 books and half as many movies (The Notebook, Dear John, A Walk to Remember), Sparks's preposterous approach has crystalized into cliché: An adorable couple in a greeting card-pretty setting finds and loses and rediscovers love while destiny does distressing things to them for the audience's entertainment.

Director Michael Hoffman (The Last Station) sticks to Sparks's moist, emotional formula. The sunlight is golden, the accent's rural (this one's set in Louisiana), people die, sagacious letters are read aloud. As the older Dawson and Amanda, James Marsden (27 Dresses) and Michelle Monaghan (True Detective) emote with careworn sincerity while their peppy younger selves are played by non-lookalikes, Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato, ignorant that destiny is warming up in the bullpen.