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Clichs abound in routine romance 'The Choice'
Travis Shaw (Ben Walker) and Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer) in The Choice. - photo by Josh Terry
"THE CHOICE" 1 stars Benjamin Walker, Teresa Palmer, Alexandra Daddario; rated PG-13 (sexual content and some thematic issues); in general release

"The Choice" is a routine, paint-by-numbers Nicholas Sparks adaptation that is as linear as a rural Nevada highway. Choosing to juggle the narrative a bit would have been a big help.

The film is marred by myriad problems, but the biggest by far is that nothing really happens for the first three-quarters of the film. This period is dedicated to the courtship of the movie's romantic leads, which is never in doubt despite a few meager attempts to introduce plot distractions. It is only after the leads get together that director Ross Katz reveals the "choice" inherent in the title, and by then, it's far too little too late.

That courtship is filled with familiar Sparks tropes. There's an idyllic setting next to a body of water, a manly leading man with an over-the-top Southern drawl who likes to take his shirt off a lot, and a smart and beautiful leading lady who hates him until she decides she loves him.

The guy is Travis (Benjamin Walker), a good-boy veterinarian who drops phrases such as "look-see" and "F-150 full of Milk-Bones." According to his sister Steph (Maggie Grace), he's also a ladies man who is afraid of commitment. Obviously, this will not last.

The gal is Gabby (Teresa Palmer), a med student who moves into the beautiful Southern home next to Travis' beautiful Southern home to keep a safe, professional distance from her serious boyfriend, a doctor named Ryan (Tom Welling).

Travis plays his music too loud, and Gabby goes from zero to enraged in under six seconds. Then he helps her dog deliver puppies, and she agrees to attend a boating activity the next day (Ryan is conveniently out of town for a few weeks.) Gabby pretends to play hard to get, telling Steph that "a man with one chair likes to sit alone." About 12 hours later, she sleeps with him.

Travis has an ex-girlfriend (Alexandra Daddario) who pops up here and there, but Katz gives her and Ryan just enough screen time to let us know he doesnt expect us to take them seriously. Without genuine conflict, Katz instead distracts viewers with shots of dogs and puppies and people trying to talk to them. There's also a mild subplot about Travis' father Shep (Tom Wilkinson), which just confuses viewers because he has no Southern accent whatsoever.

Once we're through all this, an obligatory life-or-death event intervenes, which is meant to test the love of our heroes. Longtime Sparks fans might find that part satisfying and maybe even surprising. But everyone else will likely struggle to invest and will doubt the validity of that love. Worst of all, the long-awaited "choice" feels problematic when you imagine how its message is supposed to apply to life.

Palmer and Walker do their best with some cringe-inducing dialogue and show promise when they arent being used as eye candy. Apparently, the hope here is that we're so distracted by the cute one-liners and the puppies and the beefcake and the bikinis that well overlook the lack of story.

Weaving a little of that third act material earlier into the film might have built a little suspense and credibility. But as it is, The Choice is a lazy romance that is less than the sum of its clichs.

"The Choice" is rated PG-13 for sexual content and some thematic issues; running time: 111 minutes
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