Safe Haven

By James Jay Edwards
Released: February 14, 2013
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An affirming and suspenseful story about a young woman's struggle to love again, Safe Haven is based on the novel from Nicholas Sparks, the best-selling author behind the hit films The Notebook and Dear John. When a mysterious young woman arrives in a small North Carolina town, her reluctance to join the tight knit community raises questions about her past. Slowly, she begins putting down roots, and gains the courage to start a relationship with Alex, a widowed store owner with two young children. But dark secrets intrude on her new life with such terror that she is forced to rediscover the meaning of sacrifice and rely on the power of love in this deeply moving romantic thriller.

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Film Review
Nicholas Sparks is in an enviable position. As a writer, he knows that any book he writes will fly off the shelves. As a producer, he knows that his audience will come to see any movie made from one of his novels, even one as bad as Safe Haven.

Katie (dancer Julianne Hough, who also has had turns in Rock of Ages and the remake of Footloose) is the new girl in Southport, North Carolina. Alex (the Transformers franchise's Josh Duhamel) is a lonely father of two who has lost his wife to cancer. The pair meets at Alex's general store and he falls for her. The only problem is that Katie has a secret past that makes her reluctant to open herself up to new people. Just as she starts to warm to Alex's advances, her past catches up to her as a terminator-like policeman (David Lyons from "ER") tracks her down. Katie wants to flee, but Alex makes her realize that, whatever the problem is, he will take care of her and that Southport is her safe haven.

Safe Haven is a mess. It tries to be both a cunning suspense film and a beautiful love story, and it fails at both. The script was adapted from Sparks' novel by Leslie Bohem (who wrote The Horror Show, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and The Darkest Hour) and Dana Stevens (screenwriter of City of Angels and Life or Something Like It). On paper, it looks like they would be the ideal team to tackle a combination romance/thriller. Unfortunately, the genres are not seamlessly mixed together, and Safe Haven jumps back and forth between the light and the dark so that nothing about the film feels organic. The sappy sweet love story and the tension-filled drama seem like two completely separate stories; they don't intertwine or collide in any way, making the entire film feel forced. The writing is on-the-nose, the acting is overdone, and even the photography of the film is typical and boring. In both concept and execution, Safe Haven is more like a Lifetime Network original tearjerker than a theatrical release.

It's not that Safe Haven doesn't try; it's got moments that attempt to be romantic. For example, there's one scene where Alex and Katie are the only ones left in a café that is attached to a fishing tackle shop (remember, they're in Southport, North Carolina). They turn on the radio and slow dance. The scene is supposed to illustrate Alex and Katie's blooming openness towards each other. It doesn't. It comes off as a cheap knockoff of the pottery scene in Ghost. Except Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel are not Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze, and Safe Haven is not Ghost.

On the whole, Safe Haven plays out exactly as expected. Every plot point and inciting incident is driven by convenience and contrivance. Even when the story does throw a big twist in, like the one that ushers in the third act, it is so sugar-coated and watered down that the moment is completely stripped of any shock value. The only unpredictable part of the film is the very end, and even that is a rehash of a familiar motif. Rehash or not, the resolution ending does prove that Sparks knows exactly what his audience wants to see in his movies, and they'll eat up Safe Haven.
Surprisingly, Safe Haven is directed by Swedish filmmaker Lasse Halström (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, My Life as a Dog). It's surprising because Halström is capable of much, much more than Safe Haven delivers. Lasse Halström has a wonderfully quirky directorial style. Unfortunately, Safe Haven doesn't feel like a Lasse Halström film. It's the kind of movie that could have been made by anyone, lacking any authorship that Halström could or should have brought to it. There are a few little oddball things that remind the audience that it's a Halström film - a rack focus here, a dolly-zoom there - but even those scenes and shots feel like they could have been performed by anyone. Safe Haven may have Halström’s name, but it doesn't have his stamp - it plays it too, well, safe.

Romance, Drama
Release Date
February 14, 2013
MPAA Rating
PG 13