Picks and Pans Review: The Guardian

updated 04/14/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/14/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

By Nicholas Sparks

Julie Barenson is a 29-year-old widow who hasn't gone out much since her husband died four years ago. Richard Franklin is a handsome and successful engineer who knows how to treat a gal. The two date, but unfortunately they have no chemistry. When Julie gives Richard the heave, though, he won't take no for an answer.

Cue stalker music, and say goodbye to logic as the story devolves into a standard Hollywood woman-in-peril tale. Will Julie's faithful dog (the guardian of the title and a posthumous gift from her late hubby) or the local constabulary (including a cop who belongs in a farce) come to the rescue? Sparks (Nights in Rodanthe) makes some smart observations about romance but puts his characters through predictable paces: Richard turns out to be the evil product of a dysfunctional childhood. As the scenes grow shorter and more frantic, you just know there's going to be a bloody ending. (Warner, $24.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Stale stalker

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