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film review

Ben Walker and Teresa Palmer star in the new sappy romantic drama The Choice.Dana Hawley

The Choice

1 star

Directed by Ross Katz
Written by Bryan Sipe
Starring Benjamin Walker, Teresa Palmer, Tom Wilkinson
Classification PG; 111 minutes

A Date with Miss Fortune

1.5 stars

Directed by John L'Ecuyer
Written by Ryan K. Scott, Jeannette Sousa
Starring Jeannette Sousa, Ryan K. Scott
Classification PG; 97 minutes

In the sappy romantic drama The Choice, we are told by a male narrator in a Forrest Gumpian drawl that "the whole damn thing is about choices," and that "every path you take leads to another choice," and that "some choices change everything." Jeepers. Turns out, author Nicholas Sparks is some sort of gosh-darn Gandhi Aristotle. I never pictured the cheesy novelist as the toga type, but the dude just sneaked in some pure existential gold right there.

Moving on. In the occasionally cute romantic comedy A Date With Miss Fortune, we are told by a male narrator that "the choices we make are our future." Again, a mind-blowing revelation from the silver screen: Life is affected by the life-changing decisions we make. Could it be that the charming nitwit Gump had it all wrong? Life is not like a box of chocolates?

Two date-night movies hit theatres this Friday right in time for Valentine's Day, and both are annoyingly imperceptive with their trite lessons. The choices the filmmakers made were only the most eye-rolling ones, without a whit of boldness in evidence.

The Choice is one more in a softly lit series of films adapted from Sparks novels, and the trailer pretty much gives everything away: A couple of white, well-off, young and fetching Southerners bicker at the beginning but fall deep in love and then they are caught in the rain – characters in Sparks's stories always disobey dark skies and weathermen – and take refuge in a black Baptist church in the country where the young man's old white father (played folksy by Tom Wilkinson) is apparently some sort of gospel-music-loving deacon. Later, the comely girl (now wife) is in an accident and winds up on life support. The husband has a choice to make: Pull the plug or not? (I won't give the ending away, but will say that the secondary choice to keep up the woman's gruelling tanning regimen was correctly dealt with. She looks great in a coma.)

Directed by Ross Katz (who handled the charismatic comedy Adult Beginners a year ago), The Choice's best attractions are the talented Benjamin Walker and the watery, small-town North Carolina scenery. The Georgia-born Walker, star of 2012's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, is at ease as a Dixie-whistling veterinarian and full-time charmer.

His bronze, toned love interest is Gabby, played to the best of her abilities by Teresa Palmer, an Australian model and untrained actress. She never does quite nail the Southern accent required, but she's as cute as the dickens when Travis the vet comes over in the middle of the night when her pregnant dog is about to give birth. Katz shamelessly exploits the cuteness of the dogs, but, in fairness to him, Gabby's puppies really are something to see.

Similarly, perhaps the best scene in A Date with Miss Fortune (filmed on a modest budget in Toronto) concerns a Boston terrier with a condom wrapper in its mouth, a moment that comically messes up a dinner party.

The smartly structured film stars Ryan K. Scott as the Ben Stiller-ish Jack, a struggling sitcom writer who, on an accidental first date, is smitten by Maria (Jeannette Sousa). She is crucifix-loving and of Portuguese descent; he's not, so of course he'll have to win over her Catholic family. Think "My Big Fat Portuguese Wedding Meets the Parents," with cameos by George Stroumboulopoulos (good) and Nelly Furtado (meh).

The story is based on real-life couple Scott and Sousa, who are also the writers of the film. Choices? Jack has a one-way ticket to London when he meets Maria. From a series of flash-forward scenes, however, we know that he chooses love at first sight rather than taking the flight. Maria is ridiculously superstitious, to the point of needing a stink-eyeing fortune teller's approval when it comes to life decisions. Which is hooey to Jack, who thinks "destiny" is merely a good name for a stripper.

Both films culminate ridiculously, but The Choice is more troubling. The young couple is privileged to the hilt and rich in genes and opportunities – what fancy restaurant tonight for him and what riding breeches for her are some of their tough choices.

As for your own Valentine's Day options, maybe skip the cinema. Instead, buy a box of chocolates and watch the Tom Hanks doozy about a philosophizing shrimp-boat simpleton and the magic of serendipity. The choice is easy.