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Dear Avatar: You Just Got Whipped by a Chick Flick and an Army of Little Girls! What the Hell Happened?

POSTED:

It's not that anyone expected *Avatar* to hold the No. 1 box-office spot forever. But I always thought the biggest movie moneymaker ever ($630 million domestic, $1.6 billion worldwide) would fall from grace after a studly battle, maybe with Scorsese's Shutter Island on Feb. 19th. But nooo. After seven weeks on top, Avatar slunk off to No. 2 leaving the crown to — what? — *Dear John*! That's right, the chick flick about a soldier (Channing Tatum) who gets a Dear John letter from a girl (Amanda Seyfried) while he's fighting in Iraq, took in $32.4 million for the weekend, leaving Avatar with a not-even-close $23.6 million.

How did it happen? On Super Bowl weekend with guys thinking only football, the ladies seized the multiplex. The audience for Dear John was 84 percent female. And Variety reports that 64 percent of that audience was under 21. James Cameron's epic rhapsody in blue has been taken down by, of all things, little girls!

Why is Dear John so breathtakingly awful? Blame Nicholas Sparks, North Carolina's poet of piss-poor treacle, who wrote the novel Dear John is based on. Sparks is now a profitable franchise in Hollywood, despite the fact that the weepy movies made from his wussy novels are all puke-inducing. On March 31st, the sixth film based on a Sparks book will be released. It's called The Last Song and stars Miley Cyrus (omfg!) as a tormented child of divorce who learns to bond with her father over music (again omfg!) while finding first love (oh, forget it).

Just in case you don't agree with me that Sparks is a plague on cinema, let's look at the five movies made from his books so far and rate them from bad to worst. Here's my list:

The Notebook (2004): Two cringe-worthy love stories for the price of one: Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams star in the 1940s flashbacks, with James Garner and Gena Rowlands — mom of the film's director, Nick Cassavetes — doing nursing-home duty in the present day. The acting is the only thing that raises this above the Sparks herd. The Gosling/McAdams chemistry earns this one a grudging pass.

Nights in Rodanthe (2008): Sparks moves from youth to middle aged romance with Diane Lane, estranged from her wayward hubby, finding love with Dr. Paul Flanner (Richard Gere) as a storm rages on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Sucks you under like quicksand made of marshmallow.

Message in a Bottle (1999): Kevin Costner stars as the romantically sullen boat builder in North Carolina who writes love notes, shoves them in a bottle and sends them out to sea, where his dead wife will get the message that he's lost without her. "You are my true north," he writes. Director Luis Mandoki drags the torture out for two-plus hours. Take this *Bottle* and sink it.

A Walk To Remember (2002): Mandy Moore plays a high school ugly duckling (ha!) who gets a makeover and finds love with help from Christian sermonizing laid on with a thud. So bad it hurts me just to remember it.

Dear John (2010): The worst yet of Sparks on screen and, of course, the most potent yet at the box office where adolescent girls of all ages can pay up repeatedly to watch Amanda Seyfried suffer the loss of hunky Channing Tatum due to war and romantic misunderstanding. Please make Sparks stop.

OK, this is my list of the worst and less worse of the cinema of Nicholas Sparks. Correct me if I'm wrong. Defend the man if you must. I'd really like to know what good can possibly be said about Sparks and the movies he perpetrates.

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Peter Travers

Rolling Stone senior writer Peter Travers has reviewed movies for the magazine for more than 20 years. Send your comments and questions to him here.

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