An easygoing charmer and an uptight medical student are the opposites that supposedly attract in “The Choice,” the latest adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel. The man is Travis (Benjamin Walker), an amiable North Carolina lady-killer and unlikely veterinarian; the woman is Gabby (Teresa Palmer), who expresses her smarts and taste by listening to classical music. Initially, they can’t see that they’re meant for each other.
“Could you be any more obnoxious?” Gabby says on their first meeting, after crossing the grass between their houses to accuse his dog of impregnating hers. “Lady,” Travis responds, “you have no idea.”
Rarely have two more repellent characters been so unwillingly thrust into each other’s arms. Sparks, a romance-writing machine, has often presented love as a fait accompli (“The Notebook,” “The Longest Ride”), but in “The Choice,” it feels like forcible compulsion. Whenever Travis and Gabby collide and bicker nastily, everyone around them swoons. “You just met your future wife,” says Travis’ sister (Maggie Grace).
What does Gabby see in Travis? Walker had enough charisma to play the title role in the stage musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” but here he cuts a strange figure with a slow Southern drawl and a modified Ken-doll haircut. As for Gabby, aside from her relentlessly hostile attitude and a philandering streak (she cheats on her boyfriend, played by Tom Welling, almost the minute he leaves town), there’s nothing special about her. Palmer isn’t any more adept than anyone here (save for Tom Wilkinson as Travis’ father) at breathing life into such cringe-worthy lines as “Oh! You’re half-naked!”
“The Choice” has almost nothing to do with choices, despite how Travis prattles on about big ones and little ones and “monster truck life-changing” ones. Any choice these characters face is quickly made for them by Sparks, a major fan of drastic contrivances and implausible endings. The film’s only clear message seems to be that a man must fight for his woman, even after she tells him plainly to take a flying leap.
Directed by Ross Katz from Bryan Sipe’s screenplay, “The Choice” is such a bad movie that it virtually begs for the most obvious wisecrack possible, so here goes: Don’t choose to see it.