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Safe Haven

2013 | 115 min | PG-13 | 2.39:1

Safe Haven


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Theatrical release date

 14 February, 2013
 01 March, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Safe Haven


Screenshots from Safe Haven Blu-ray

Safe Haven Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, February 13, 2013

At this point, it’s fruitless to fight the Nicholas Sparks formula, having already serviced hits such as “The Notebook,” while also worked into pictures like “Nights in Rodanthe” and last year’s “The Lucky One.” The man has a devoted fanbase, those who adore breezy North Carolina beachside locations, dewy love between opposites, and wildly implausible turns of fate that kick on the melodramatic afterburners. “Safe Haven” (adapted from the 2010 novel) pours neatly into the same mold, only here there’s more of a prominent thriller element that mirrors Nancy Price’s 1987 book, “Sleeping with the Enemy” (turned into hit film in 1991), employing even more proven formula to strengthen the proven formula.

After stabbing her abusive husband with a kitchen knife, Boston native Katie (Julianne Hough) tears off into the night, hastily arranging a new look and passage to coastal North Carolina, hoping to make a fresh start in a peaceful small town. Securing a house and a waitressing gig, Katie catches the eye of shopkeeper Alex (Josh Duhamel), a kindly widower with two precocious kids who’s interested in learning more about the town newcomer. At first reluctant to interact with strangers, Katie soon befriends mysterious neighbor Jo (Cobie Smulders) and begins to date Alex, welcoming love back into her life while becoming a mother figure to the kids. However, all is not well back home, with Detective Tierney (David Lyons) determined to bring Katie in on murder charges, obsessively investigating her life as he narrows down his search for the fugitive.

Director Lasse Hallstrom has some experience in the Sparksian world of romance, having helmed the 2010 hit, “Dear John.” More or less repeating himself with a new set of actors and a harder sense of violence, Hallstrom conjures a familiar realm of beaches and confession, tracking Katie and Alex’s slow dance of trust as the two bond over broken marriages, with the widower still reeling from the loss of his wife, who succumbed to cancer after leaving detailed instructions to her family in a series of letters designed to be opened during momentous occasions. The locations are undeniably appealing, and I appreciate Sparks’s interest in celebrating his favorite place on Earth. Still, the routine of it all, with sun-kissed skies, seafood diners, and tourist atmosphere, is growing stale, with “Safe Haven” refusing to alter the ingredients out of fear that the brew (and box office potential) will be spoiled.

What’s new here is a taste of suspense, following Tierney as he mounts an absurd attempt to locate Katie using bus station security camera footage and a community rampage, berating a particular neighbor who initially claims no knowledge of the abused woman. While a compelling character in design, Lyons’s performance is so over-the-top, it’s impossible to believe a second of his police work, which takes a few turns as the trail to Katie comes into view. There’s also something of a supernatural element to “Safe Haven” that’s absolutely ridiculous, implausible, and out of left field, yet I doubt most people already tuned into Sparks’s frequency of eternal love will mind the sudden detour.

When keeping to googly eyes and stammered purges of feelings, “Safe Haven” is perfectly palatable, finding Hough and Duhamel delivering satisfactory work as the lovers, keeping the romance alert and PG-13-sexy to please the audience. When the plot requires heightened awareness of past misdeeds, the actors tumble into painful overacting, with a drinking game in the making every time Duhamel anxiously runs his hands through his hair. There’s also a question of confession, finding Alex hilariously unwilling to hear Katie’s sob story when he finally learns she’s wanted for murder. I don’t know about you, but if I found out the woman I loved killed her husband, I’d demand to hear that story. I’d make her tell it twice.

The third act of “Safe Haven” crawls into spoiler territory, making description impossible without revealing Sparks’s most brazen manipulations. Unfortunately, the conclusion is executed in a wheezy soap opera manner, with fire, kids in peril, and gunplay arriving to shake up a bland story. When “Safe Haven” isn’t being ridiculous, it’s utterly conventional, refusing to color outside the lines to make an impression that hasn’t already been found in previous Sparks-branded efforts.

Starring: Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough, Cobie Smulders, Red West, Jon Kohler, Tim Parati (I)
Director: Lasse Hallström

» See full cast & crew

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Safe Haven (February 14th) 16 Feb 26, 2013

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