Dear John. Think of "Dear John" as post-911 America lite — very lite. Where a film like Kimberly Pierce’s "Stop-Loss" drew you into an unaffected universe of American military oppression its own troops, "Dear John" wants to punish and blame its Special Forces soldier John (Channing Tatum) via his head, heart, and libido. For as much blame as Nicholas Sparks deserves for writing the softsoap novel that this heart-sleeve mockery is based on, it’s Lasse Hallstrom’s lacking direction that perpetually pulls the audience out of the puffy romantic wartime equation onscreen. Certainly, Hallstrom films beautiful sun-kissed compositions that reek with the odorless endorphins of his lovestruck characters. But it’s not a style that serves Sparks’ already affected material. South Carolina’s warm summer beaches provide the tiny waves that John surfs on while visiting his autistic father (thanklessly played by Richard Jenkins), whose coin-collecting obsession substitutes for a thematic throughline. A beach pier meet-cute with rich girl Savannah (Amanda Seyfried) snowballs into a raging long-distance romance that gets a major monkeywrench tossed in when the attacks of 9/11 spell an extended tour of duty for John, who was on the brink of getting out when the attacks occurred. John finds out the hard way that love won’t wait forever, and the audience gets treated to the most bone-headed reaction shot of the decade, courtesy of Seyfried upon hearing about the death of a loved one. Even as a weepy, "Dear John" falls short of turning on the waterworks. Rated PG-13. 102 mins. (C-)

From Paris With Love. As with spaghetti Westerns and sitcoms, you know they’ve jumped the shark when the tone turns to self-mockery. So it is that in one fell swoop John Travolta and suicide bombers have bid audiences their valediction. With Luc Besson’s name prominently displayed as its story source, "From Paris With Love" is a shameless shoot ’em up body-count movie with barely enough humor to distract from the pejoratively exploitative nature of its relentlessly bloody action. There is no character or story development here, only innumerable excuses for the seemingly endless homicides that they provide Travolta’s impudent trigger-happy CIA hit man Charlie Wax. Waylaid at Charles de Gaulle airport upon his arrival in Paris, Charlie needs wannabe special ops agent Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) to liberate him. "Wax," as his likes to be called, is in town to fulfill a vague mission busting up a Chinese cocaine ring and a Pakistani terrorist cell when he isn’t munching on yet another "Royale with cheese" — yes, just like in "Pulp Fiction." Travolta himself is the only other thing this hot-mess-on-a-greased-platter has in common with that astronomically better film. Adi Hasak’s screenplay sounds like it was written by a French junior high school kid who just discovered he can curse in English as much as he wants. Wax takes Reese under his itchy wing long enough to teach him the finer points of cold-blooded killing with a "look-no-hands" attitude that comes off as more of an insult than a joke. Rated R. 94 mins. (D)

Edge of Darkness. Acting in his first film since 2003, Mel Gibson is a bit rusty as retiring Boston homicide detective Thomas Craven in a part-corporate-thriller and part-old-school revenge fantasy that feels dated from the start. A gratuitously bloody murder sets up a gauntlet of corporate espionage Craven must navigate to investigate the murder of his political-activist daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic). Danny Huston delivers some enjoyable scene-chewing as corporate baddie Jack Bennett, but Ray Winstone seems to have been cast in a role cut-and-pasted from a different film. Director Martin Campbell’s filmmaking is competent. He creates better than average chase scenes, as well as the sudden deaths common in the revenge genre. Similar to last year’s "State of Play," "Edge of Darkness" is based on a six-part, 1985 British miniseries. And like "State of Play," this attempt at condensing six hours of narrative into 100 minutes results in underdeveloped characters overstating their positions in scenes that beg more questions than they address. Despite its formulaic storyline, insincere subplots, and a wobbly performance from Gibson, quick pacing works to the film’s advantage. But in nearly every scene there’s a moment where you can see Gibson "acting." In the face of his damaged public persona and fading looks Gibson seems clearly nervous about his ability to win over an audience. He does a little look-back to the camera at the end of several scenes, and his expression is unmistakable as an actor seeking approval from some imaginary source. Rated R. 116 mins. (C-)

When in Rome. Kristen Bell rings flat as Beth, the girl-next-door-Guggenheim-museum-art-currator who fulfills a curse when she takes five coins from Rome’s fountain of love. During a 48-hour Italian visit for her sister’s sudden wedding, Beth meets the accident-prone Nick (Josh Duhamel), who happens to also live in New York. However, Beth’s coins attract the ongoing romantic of the men whose coins she now possesses. Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Dax Shepard, and Danny Devito work to varying levels of success as the less-than-winning hopefuls at Beth’s threshold. Devito fares best as a sausage company founder with genuine feelings for Beth. Duhamel carries his character’s romantic duties with workmanlike effectiveness that helps mask an utter lack of chemistry with Bell, coming off like a shrew. The film has no interconnectedness. It’s one slapstic gag to another pratfall. The dialogue isn’t funny and the filmmakers know nothing about comic timing. Rated PG-13. 91 mins. (C-)

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