Mark Reviews Movies

Safe Haven


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Lasse Hallström

Cast: Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, David Lyons, Cobie Smulders

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material involving threatening behavior, and for violence and sexuality)

Running Time: 1:55

Release Date: 2/14/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 14, 2013

The final act, climax, and denouement of Safe Haven present three separate but equally terrible ideas. In the first of those plot markers, the movie turns domestic abuse into a cheap development that really only exists to put the central romance in brief peril. Next, the screenplay concocts a manipulative scenario that relies on the stupidity of its main character, the drunkenly suicidal insanity of its antagonist, and a random happenstance from a background event for the sole purpose of putting a child in mortal danger for no reason other than the tawdry thrill of it.

Finally, as if those weren't enough, there's a last-minute twist that one might have jokingly considered a possibility after a somewhat similar second-act revelation. At the time, it seems ludicrous, and when it arrives, it turns out that it is.

Until that questionable trifecta arrives, Safe Haven is a relatively harmless movie about a completely inconsequential romance between two attractive, bland people who have fun smiling and laughing as they go out to the beach and on a canoe trip through an alligator-infested swamp (Since it's during lovey part of the story, there are no alligators). The woman has a horrifying secret that turns out to be a red herring, and the man is a widower with two kids who finally meets a woman who makes him want to get over his dead wife, who, by the way, wrote a letter to the hypothetical woman with whom her husband would eventually fall in love. In the letter, she states that she wishes she could see him with her.

That kind of throwaway weirdness is par for the course for these adaptations of Nicholas Sparks' books, which have so many repeated motifs and scenarios that it's already becoming difficult to differentiate them. For example, the villain here is an obsessive cop with a connection to the female protagonist who shows up drunk to a celebration in town while in possession of a gun. If one doesn't think that sounds like a case of déjà vu, that person may be a lucky one.

The cop is on the trail of Katie (Julianne Hough)—if that's her real name (It's not)—who is on the run after a hazy stabbing. She takes a bus in Boston with the destination of Atlanta, but after making a stop in the small town of Southport, North Carolina, Katie decides to stay because the water off the pier looks so pretty. She gets a job at local restaurant and buys a cabin in the woods to stay away from people. Meanwhile, the detective (David Lyons) is busy back in Boston trying to find her (Deborah Lurie's score makes abrupt shifts from pleasant guitar melodies to ominous strings as the movie suddenly cuts from Katie to the cop).

Katie also meets Alex (Josh Duhamel), the owner of a little store in town. He has his eye on her in a way that occasionally gives off a creepy vibe, like when he drives to her house in the middle of the night to leave her a bike or snaps a photo of her in a bikini while the two of them and his kids (Mimi Kirkland and Noah Lomax) are at the beach. He has good intentions, or at least that's what Jo (Cobie Smulders), another recluse who is Katie's only other friend in town, says of him.

The two get together a few times, their hands get closer and closer to touching, and eventually they're naked and politely wrapped in each other's arms in the glow of the moonlight coming through the windows of Katie's cabin. It's only a matter of time, of course, before someone notices the wanted bulletin pinned to a board at the local police station (Leslie Bohem and Dana Stevens' screenplay doesn't attempt to gloss over the liberal and transparent usage of the rule of Chekhov's gun here).

As confounding and, in at least two cases, maddening as the final act and everything that comes after are, they at least incite some form of emotion. Until then, the only resonant moment of Safe Haven comes from Alex going through letters his wife wrote to her children for the momentous occasions in their lives that she would not experience. We have more inherent sympathy for a character who, in theory, is not involved in any way with the story than we do for the bores involved. That's saying something.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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