To give off the impression that Dawson Cole, our protagonist in Michael Hoffman’s The Best of Me, is a brooding intellectual, he can be seen in the opening moments engulfed in a Stephen King novel. It may only be brief, but it sets off this feeling of hope and desire, that somebody had adapted one the author’s accomplished, cinema-friendly novels – instead of yet another bloody Nicholas Sparks book.

Dawson Cole is played by James Marsden, who is unwittingly brought back into his ex-partner Amanda’s (Michelle Monaghan) company, when the pair meet to clear the house of an old friend who had recently passed away, as per his instructions in his will. The childhood sweethearts (portrayed in flashbacks by Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato, respectively) haven’t seen each other for 20 years, and while Amanda has moved on, now a wife and mother – Dawson has spent the last two decades pining for this very moment, hoping to win back the heart of his first, and only, true love.

The Best of Me is overcome by its mawkish tendencies, with several, supposedly sincere moments where our protagonists discuss the stars in the night sky. Yet it’s difficult to be too critical of this approach, as you know exactly what you’re going to get with a Sparks adaptation, as this film bears resemblances to the likes of Safe Haven and The Lucky One, and there’s undoubtedly an audience out there for films of this nature. But that being said, it’s still something of a disappointment to see the likes of Monaghan – who was so impressive in the breathtaking TV series True Detective, and then Marsden, who almost parodies cinematic heartthrobs of this nature in the recent Anchorman sequel, both turn in something so contrived, and offensively cliched.

Yet the most vexing, and detrimental aspect to this picture, is the laughable choice of casting for the younger Dawson Cole. It’s just another bloke. Another bloke who isn’t James Marsden. A bloke who looks around the same age, and bears more of a resemblance to Aaron Eckhart if anything. A bloke who answers to the name Dawson, and you’re not quite sure why. They are just two completely different people, there’s no other way around it. It requires an almighty suspension of disbelief to adhere to this absurdity. It makes so little sense too, as Marsden is youthful enough to play himself as a high school student. Just give him a wig and make him clean shaven and hey presto, he’ll look more like James Marsden than Luke Bracey does.

The Best of Me also attempts far too much, going off on so many tangents that we lose sight of whatever it is we’re supposed to be caring about. But for every sigh made at the more sentimental, ridiculous sequences, there were those in the same room sobbing uncontrollably. That’s Nicholas Spark adaptations in a nutshell – they do have an audience, and there are many out there who get emotionally wrapped up in the pictures and are taken away with the romanticism on show, and fair enough, different films appeal to different tastes. Sadly, however, it’s one that leaves a very bitter taste in this cynical reviewer’s mouth.