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The Best of Me is not so much an adaptation as a maudlin abomination

by Mark Burger

The Best of Me, the screen adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks best-seller, is rife with elements familiar to the earlier films based on his novels. It features pretty locations (Louisiana) and pretty actors (Michelle Monaghan, James Marsden, Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato), is “augmented” by a lush score (courtesy Aaron Zigman) and some very treacly tunes, and it is utterly, hopelessly awash in soap opera trappings.

These are the components that have made Sparks’ novels so popular in certain circles and have yielded some of the most saccharine, syrupy romantic melodramas to have hit the screen in years, including Dear John and The Last Song (both 2010), The Lucky One (2012), and Safe Haven (2013). The Best of Me, which doesn’t remotely resemble the best work of anyone involved, can now be added to that list.

Monaghan plays Amanda and Marsden plays Dawson. Way back in 1992, they were teenage sweethearts until circumstances “” duly conveyed in flashback “” pulled them apart. Whether in the past or the present, The Best of Me piles incident upon incident and contrivance upon contrivance, while trying everything to wring tears from its audience. Wasting two hours watching this film is almost enough to bring one to tears, if not the kind the filmmakers intended.

Even if the older actors don’t resemble their older counterparts and vice-versa, Monaghan, Marsden, Bracey and Liberato are all attractive and personable.

Too bad they’re stuck here. Gerald McRaney, Sean Bridgers, Caroline Goodall, Jon Tenney and Clarke Peters round out a supporting cast that hasn’t much to do, though McRaney dispenses old-school wisdom about life and love as Dawson’s mentor, and Bridgers plays it down-and-dirty as Dawson’s abusive, drugaddled, trouble-making father.

As Amanda and Dawson confront the ghosts of their past and their hopes for the future, a second chance at romance beckons, unsurprisingly. Amanda is married – clearly not hurting for money given her Baton Rouge home – to shallow, self-absorbed Frank (Sebastian Arcelus), who is hardly a threat to strapping, clear-eyed Dawson, who is single.

Conveniently, Frank also has a drinking problem, an after-effect of their young daughter’s untimely death some years before, which is yet another melodramatic hurdle to be overcome in a film that is almost absurdly full of them.

This is the kind of movie where Amanda tells Dawson that Frank drinks but that she has since stopped “” only to be opening a bottle of wine a scene later and, shortly thereafter, having a few beers with him by the lake. (Budweiser receives optimum product-placement here.)

The Best of Me saves its final plot twist for the end, one that almost manages to defy simple logic. Long before that point, however, the film is a lost cause. Die-hard Sparks fans might be willing to buy into it, but all others be warned.

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