Rated PG-13 for some sensuality and violence
Length: 108 minutes
Released: February 5, 2010 Nationwide
Cast: Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, Henry Thomas, Richard Jenkins, Scott Porter
Director: Lasse Hallström
Producer: Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey
Writer: Nicholas Sparks, Jamie Linden
Genre: Drama, Romance, War
Distributor: Screen Gems/Sony Pictures
Channing Tatum knows that "Dear John" could be slapped with the (dreaded) chick-flick label in some circles.
"Look, I don't want to do a hard sell for guys," the actor said during a recent phone call. "I mean, I think guys will see it. I don't think me and my buddies would all go to see this movie together. I just don't think that's going to happen -- as much as I would like for that to happen, I just don't think it will."
Still, he calls the adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks novel the rare love story told from a male perspective. Beyond the romance between John (Tatum) and Savannah (Amanda Seyfried), "There's another love story in the movie that is just as powerful and maybe even more moving that's between the father and son."
Richard Jenkins, an Oscar nominee a year ago for "The Visitor," plays John's single father. A quiet man whose life is steeped in routine, he loves his son but cannot express it and spends much of his time with his rare-coin collection.
Although a possible explanation is raised for the dad's habits and mannerisms, Tatum says, "I think it's about parents not being able to communicate with their children. It's a hard thing to do when you have a kid who's sort of unruly and thinks he knows everything and the parent just loves him."
Tatum is a former model, born in Alabama and reared in Florida, who starred opposite Amanda Bynes in "She's the Man" and his future wife, Jenna Dewan, in "Step Up" in 2006. They played a poor boy and a privileged girl who are a match made in Maryland School-of-the-Arts heaven.
Since then, he appeared in "Stop-Loss," ''Fighting" and "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra." Tatum, who turns 30 in April, often specializes in one-time bad boys or parts that draw on his physicality, sexiness and aw-shucks nice-guy appeal.
In "Dear John," he plays a U.S. Army Special Forces soldier on leave in his home state of South Carolina (not the North Carolina of the book) who meets a college student on break.
After a two-week courtship, she goes back to school and he returns to the military, but the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and other events conspire to keep them apart, even as they communicate by old-fashioned letter.
Tatum, who read the book three years ago, was involved for the first time in picking a writer, screenplay draft and director for the project. The Swedish-born Lasse Hallstrom, who made "Chocolat," ''The Cider House Rules" and "My Life As a Dog," directs.
"When I was growing up, I saw 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape,' and that is by far one of my favorite films," Tatum said of another Hallstrom picture. "Everybody in the movie was so real and so sort of fairy-tale at the same time.
"I think everybody can relate to all those characters, whether you grow up in a small town or not. You somehow are let into this family's lives and you fall in love with everybody and you want everybody to kind of get what they want out of life, although they're in a strange situation."
"Dear John" finds Tatum in uniform once more, just as he was in "G.I. Joe" and "Stop-Loss."
"The more I know about soldiers, almost the harder it is to play them. I almost feel like a fraud. I'll never know what it's like to be a soldier.
"I probably know more about, maybe, wearing the clothes ... and doing tactical things that soldiers do, but I'm in no way, shape or form ever going to understand what it is to be a soldier."
But he can understand what it's like to lose himself in surfing, as his character does.
"I surfed a little bit in California, and when I came to the East Coast, the waves were entirely different. But I did about a month of just waking up (early) every day, and you go out and it is freezing cold and it's still dark outside when you're paddling out, but it's worth it when you see the sun come up. It's beautiful out there, I truly do love it."
Tatum had been with his dance partner and girlfriend-turned-wife for four or five years by the time he made this movie. "I think I was always sort of looking for love and my soulmate, and I just think I found her."
Their love of dancing, by the way, didn't end with "Step Up." She regularly tunes into "Dancing With the Stars" and they both watch "So You Think You Can Dance."
"Jen and I go out very rarely and we get to dance. But I think once you can dance, you sort of always have it in you, you just got to wake it up every once in a while."
Tatum isn't shy about discussing dancing or an on-set injury suffered while making the Roman battle epic "The Eagle of the Ninth" for director Kevin Macdonald.
In the cover story of the January-February issue of Details, he recounts an incident that occurred while shooting in ice-cold water in the Scottish Highlands. A crew member, thinking he might cut the cold, poured scalding water into his wet suit, forgetting to dilute the boiling water to lower the temperature.
The skin peeled off his burning stomach and the water headed south to his groin, as the piece recounts in vivid detail. He's fine now but calls it "one of the most painful and intense things I've ever experienced."
Asked if he regretted being so forthcoming with Details reporter Craig Marks, including sharing photos on his iPhone, he said: "Look, I thought it was hilarious. I don't mind. I think it's funny. I think that Americans in general are a little uptight about stuff like that, for my taste, personally.
"I think if you can't laugh at yourself in situations that happen to you, especially when they're that extreme, I don't know. I think you need to figure things out."
(Contact movie editor Barbara Vancheri at bvancheri(at)post-gazette.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)