Every bit as square and obvious as its title, “Love and Honor” is somehow the most ‘50s movie possible about the Vietnam War and its blowback back home, beginning with a montage of ‘60s news footage and proceeding to parade through other touchstones of the era to the tune of familiar hits and pat romance.
After receiving a “Dear John” letter, Dalton (Austin Stowell) opts to spend his week of military leave flying home to win over his dear Jane. At the risk of also being reported AWOL, impulsive pal Mickey (Liam Hemsworth) accompanies him back to Ann Arbor, MI, where Jane (Aimee Teegarden) now goes by Juniper and runs with the war protest crowd, much to Dalton’s surprise. In an effort to get his friend back into Juniper’s good graces, Mickey proudly claims that they’ve deserted, a noble lie which reignites her affections and deflects the skepticism of most others -- save for Juniper’s friend, Candace (Teresa Palmer), and crush-happy colleague Peter (Chris Lowell).
The ensuing drama is standard-issue: Dalton and Juniper must consider what they really want; Mickey and Candace have to eventually realize that they really want each other; everyone has to keep the authorities at bay and give at least one teary-eyed monologue amid mentions of the Apollo 11 mission and the dead Kennedys. Every scene of Danny Mooney’s directorial debut is brightly lit, every car squeaky clean, every moral dilemma transparent, with evidently thorough period detail undone by production values that lend even the riots an idyllic glow, while foiling the potential for truly dramatic conflict with leaden dialogue and predictable changes of heart.
With that said, the actors basically sell it. Stowell may be as much a lead here as Hemsworth -- he certainly has the requisite square jaw -- but it’s clear which star is responsible for landing this trifle any sort of distribution. Setting aside two shameless instances of shirtlessness, this may very well be the youngest Hemsworth’s most easygoing performance to date, bringing a commendable amount of rambunctiousness and conviction to a thinly-drawn role. Fellow Aussie Palmer works similar wonders with the material, coming into her own between this and the recent “Warm Bodies” after a string of middling Disney flicks. And at the risk of damning just about the entire cast with faint praise, even Teegarden makes a better impression for herself here than she did in last year’s woeful “Beneath the Darkness.”
Nothing can change the fact that a character still has an overwrought reefer-fueled freak-out, that we’re treated to not one, not two, but three distinctly corny codas, or that the soundtrack naturally sees fit to include both “Magic Carpet Ride” and “Spirit in the Sky.” If it weren’t for the involvement of the once and future Gale Hawthorne, I could hardly imagine any teens being torn away from texting instead of watching this when it eventually plays in an American history classroom somewhere in lieu of actually tackling the trickier parts of said subject.
“Love and Honor” is currently available On Demand and will open in select cities on March 22nd.