Every once in a while, a movie emerges that shatters the romantic genre mold. It tweaks the tried-and-true formula with a bit of unorthodox experimentation. In the case of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” a vastly different, sci-fi-ish angle was examined to create a work of art that is both memorable and sentimental.
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“Dear John” is not one of those movies. When the smoke clears and all is said and done, “Dear John” is a film that would probably do more harm than good to any relationship if one were to take that special someone to see it.
For starters, the plot doesn’t get any more timeworn than a young girl (Amanda Seyfried, “Jennifer’s Body”) falling in love with a complete stranger (Channing Tatum, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”). The catch is that the couple has only a few weeks together before they must part ways — one going back to college, the other back to life in the army. But before they separate, both parties promise to stay in touch via written letters.
Seyfried’s character Savannah Curtis says writing to each other every day is like being together without being physically together — really heartbreaking stuff, interrupted only by the minor realization that hundreds of movies have already exhausted this motif. Predictably, the couple’s relationship is strained by distance, and soon “unforeseen” events occur that threaten to drive the two apart forever.
But hey, if the story is no good, then at least the acting can pick up the slack. It should come as no surprise, though, that it really doesn’t. Although the majority of the cast is passable, one person in particular severely drops the ball. Armed with his extensive arsenal of one “bad boy” expression, Tatum single-handedly destroys what little redemption “Dear John” might have had. The expression of pain on his face during those tear-jerker scenes is matched only by the pain on the viewers’ faces when they are forced to witness the man attempt acting. It’s frustrating to keep guessing what exactly Tatum is trying to convey in his dialogue.
What’s even stranger is that “Dear John” is sort of reminiscent of “Transformers 2.” Not to say the former is anywhere close to as flashy as the latter, but what “Transformers 2” was for many guys, “Dear John” could be for many women. Hell, it even has its own robot in the form of Channing Tatum.
“Transformers” director Michael Bay capitalized on every moment of Megan Fox screen time, and the same can be said about Tatum’s role in “Dear John.” The opening scene, for goodness sake, centers on Tatum walking out of the surf in full beach-bod mode. Any glaring shortfalls of the movie are cleverly covered up by an uncovered Tatum.
If “Dear John” were a letter, it wouldn’t be the sappy romantic type that makes one’s heart flutter. Instead, it would be the eviction notice telling you to get out before it’s too late.