The descendants of two screen legends star in "The Longest Ride," though they never appear in a scene together. One is Scott Eastwood, son of actor-filmmaker Clint Eastwood, who plays Luke Collins, a rodeo rider intent on winning a championship. The other is Oona Chaplin, granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin, playing Ruth Levinson, an Austrian Jew who fled the Nazis in the 1940s. Separated into narratives in different eras, the two actors might as well be in completely different films.
That is essentially what "The Longest Ride" is: two unrelated love stories connected only by faint thematic echoes and occasional plot contrivances. Luke falls for a Wake Forest sorority girl, Sophia (a bland Britt Robertson), who wants to run an art gallery, just as small-town resident Ira Levinson (Jack Huston and Alan Alda at different ages) fell for the art-loving Ruth. The present meets the past when Luke pulls Ira from a burning car. From his hospital bed, Ira tells his story in golden-hued flashbacks.
If anything separates this latest adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel from the others, it's Ruth. She's a rare real-world creation from an author whose characters usually cloister themselves away in quaint little beach towns. Chaplin, an actress with large, expressive eyes and an infectious smile, makes Ruth come alive, both as an energetic girl and as a grown woman whose dreams do not fully materialize.
Eastwood, whose resumé includes small roles in "Invictus" and "Fury," shows the stirrings of charisma in his first leading-man role. Some of that is in his DNA -- at the right angle, he looks exactly like Dirty Harry Callahan -- but the young Eastwood has more sex appeal than his flinty father did. There isn't much to Luke beyond his blue eyes and cowboy gallantry, but Eastwood, by adding a touch of vulnerability, just about makes us buy him.
The film's unlikely director, George Tillman Jr. ("Soul Food," the hip-hop biopic "Notorious"), brings so much sensitivity and attention to detail to this material -- the bull-riding scenes are remarkably visceral -- that you occasionally forget you're watching a Nicholas Sparks film. The frequent canoodling and the fantasy ending will remind you.