With Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, Cobie Smulders, David Lyons, Red West. Written by Leslie Bohem & Dana Stevens. Directed by Lasse Hallström. Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving threatening behavior, and for violence and sexuality. 115 minutes.
SAFE HAVEN is the eighth movie based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks. Although he did not write the screenplay adaptation for this one, he is billed as producer. By now it’s possible to spell out the plot for nearly all of his stories.
Star-crossed lovers meet in a Southern town. There’s a dark secret that will be revealed. Cute children may be involved. Someone is almost certain to die. Audiences will leave with tears in their eyes, believing in the power of true love. Or, in the alternative, trying not to slip on the gallons and gallons of schmaltz left as residue from the movie.
This time we’re following Katie (Julianne Hough), who is fleeing Boston under suspicious circumstances and ends up in a small North Carolina town. She mostly keeps to herself, but the really, really nice people won’t leave her be. Lexie (Mimi Kirkland) is an adorable little girl who helps her widower father Alex (Josh Duhamel) run the town’s general store and who immediately charms Katie. Alex starts to lightly flirt with her but Katie is keeping everyone at arm’s length. Yet a neighbor at her remote cabin, Jo (Cobie Smulders), encourages Katie to emerge from her shell and take up Alex on his overtures.
Meanwhile back in Boston, Detective Tierney (David Lyons), is relentlessly pursuing Katie. What did she do? Is the sunny blonde waitress – her new job – who plays with Lexie and her somewhat sullen older brother Josh (Noah Lomax) really a dangerous criminal? Is she a potential lover for Alex and step-mother to his children? Jo pushes her along, just as the older Roger (Red West) nudges Alex in the right direction. No fair guessing where it all comes out, but lest you think Sparks is in danger of getting too subtle, the climactic scenes play out during a Fourth of July celebration complete with fireworks. And what that’s over, there yet one more twist in store.
In short, we’re deep in Sparks Territory, which is to say this is a melodramatic romance where beautiful people face emotional crises before finally resolving their difficulties with other beautiful people. This is not to say the actors are untalented. Duhamel can handle a wry line reading and Hough shows a genuine affection for the children. These are actors, not mannequins, and one has to admit that the Sparks films often get talented people involved. This one is directed by Lasse Hallström, a filmmaker who once made movies like “My Life As A Dog,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” and “The Cider House Rules.” Unfortunately, his more recent credits include the Sparks film “Dear John.”
Clearly what needs to be done is to convince Sparks that he has said what he wanted to say (and several times over). We really don’t need another story in a Southern small town about star-crossed lovers, secrets, death, and love conquering all. “Safe Haven” isn’t about finding a place of comfort and protection. It’s about the threat of more of Sparks’ treacle to come.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.