If Benjamin Franklin had lived during the early twenty-first century, he may very well have amended his "death and taxes" quote to include a third certainty in life: the annual release of a Nicholas Sparks film adaptation. Movies based on the author's best-sellers have historically been made with varying degrees of success (some of the best include 2002's "A Walk to Remember
," 2004's "The Notebook
," and 2008's "Nights in Rodanthe
"), but at this point they have become so prevalent and their plots so derivative it is easy to guess where each one is headed. "The Choice" plays like a Sparks greatest-hits compilation, from the Meet Cute between sparring opposites attracted to each other, to the initial significant others who are tidily swept aside once our protagonists get together, to the trip to the carnival, to a scene of getting caught in the rain, to the urgent, food-tossing PG-13 sex scene atop the kitchen table, to a third-act accident/disease/tragedy putting our lovebirds' happily ever after in jeopardy.
Loud music and suspicions that her dog has been knocked up by his canine are the catalysts which bring together Wilmington, N.C., neighbors Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer) and Travis Parker (Benjamin Walker). She is a studious medical student with a doctor boyfriend, Ryan (Tom Welling). He's a country-boy veterinarian who has a way with the ladies. Despite her protestations, Gabby is smitten by Travis, and he with her. Playing hard to get can only last so long before Gabby's defenses are torn down and she must figure out how to break it off easily with Ryan. She has a feeling Travis may be "the one" for her, but as he foreshadows in his opening voiceover narration, the smallest everyday decisions sometimes have the power to change one's life forever.
Directed by Ross Katz (2014's "Adult Beginners"), "The Choice" is a by-the-numbers affair with one major plus: Benjamin Walker (2015's "In the Heart of the Sea
") and Teresa Palmer (2013's "Warm Bodies
") are an appealing match with comfortable, if not torch-worthy, chemistry. Were they in a screenplay better than the one first-time writer Bryan Sipe has cooked up, all involved might have excelled. Regrettably, this is a film modeled first and foremost on obligations, the characters guided by the invisible strings of a manipulative, shopworn plot that ultimately devises forced melodrama because it has nowhere else of interest to go. Meanwhile, thankless supporting parts are handed to Maggie Grace (2015's "Taken 3
"), sporting an unfortunate wig as Travis' sister Stephanie; Alexandra Daddario (2015's "San Andreas
"), whose good-hearted Monica is smart enough to finally realize Travis' heart lies elsewhere, and Tom Wilkinson (2015's "Unfinished Business
"), as Travis' widower dad and fellow vet Dr. Shep. "The Choice" aims to pull its audience's heartstringsreally, this is its only aimbut each narrative step is so rigidly prefabricated it is difficult to feel much of anything.