“Safe Haven,” written by Leslie Bohem (screenplay), Dana Stevens (screenplay) and Nicholas Sparks (novel), directed by Lasse Hallstrom, 115 minutes, rated PG-13.
With every Nicholas Sparks film adaptation comes the feeling of déjà vu, where each subsequent film has a little less identity than the last, and audiences lose a little more hope. The latest from Sparks’ bibliography to hit the big screen is “Safe Haven,” the author’s attempt to liven up his brand of romance by adding a thriller subplot worthy of a Lifetime original picture.
Julianne Hough is Katie, a woman looking for a clean slate after running away from her abusive husband, Kevin Tierney (David Lyons), who also happens to be a police officer. She finds herself in Southport, NC, a picturesque coastal community where Katie can leave her past behind. Here she meets Alex (Josh Duhamel), a local shop owner and father of two, who lost his wife to cancer. Although they start off on the wrong foot, with Katie trying to keep her distance, the attraction between them is inevitable, in true Sparks fashion.
However, little does Katie know that as she falls in love with Alex, bonding with his children and making friends in the community, her husband is tracking her down. And, unlike many stalkers, he’s a cop and has the means to do so.
This is the kind of work that Nicholas Sparks has become synonymous for. It’s not even that he writes these relatively generic love stories, but that he refuses to take risks or adapt his formula. “Safe Haven” is the perfect example of that, as he borrows elements from his previous work and slaps on a new façade. Yes, the characters’ names and backstories may change, but the heart of his work and many of the plot elements remain the same.
I like Julianne Hough, and I’m all right with Josh Duhamel in the right role, but these two have little chemistry. They’re certainly not Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, and they’re not even as believable as Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried in “Dear John.” The two just don’t seem to click here, and in a film that lacks originality such as “Safe Haven,” chemistry can make all the difference.
But here’s the good news: “Safe Haven” is escapism, not intended to be taken all that seriously. Despite a lot of really cheesy moments, director Lasse Hallstrom does an unbelievable job of turning Southport into Katie’s safe haven. He creates a true dream town that not only becomes a retreat for Katie, but for the audience as well.
Still, unless you’re a die-hard Sparks fan, I’d recommend passing on “Safe Haven.”