Valentine’s Day is here, and you know what that means: another Nicholas Sparks movie has arrived to work out your tear glands! And as much as I’m expected to lambast “Safe Haven” for being a replica of “Sleeping With the Enemy,” or point out the never-ending stream of clichés or heaps of movie cheese that makes up the final product…I just can’t do it. I can’t do it because despite the fact that Sparks has a reputation for being the schmaltziest of the schmaltz, he has a duel reputation as being the romantic who penned “The Notebook” -- and if it makes me lose credibility, so be it: I love the books he writes, and many of the movies based on them. And believe it or not, “Safe Haven” is one of the better adaptations.
Directed by Lasse Hallestrom (who also directed Sparks' “Dear John”), the film kicks off with a surprisingly intense start: we see Katie (Julianne Hough), a terrified, long-haired brunette woman on the run after what looks like some bloody, violent encounter. When we see her next, she has short blonde hair, and has landed in the quiet, small town of Southport, North Carolina. There she attempts to live as under-the-radar as she can, renting out a small desolate cottage and doing little socializing with those in the outside world. However, those plans change when she meets Alex (Josh Duhamel), a widowed store owner with two adorable young kids. They soon find themselves falling hard for each other -- but little does Katie know that her past is coming to haunt her.
After the disastrous “Rock of Ages,” I’d pretty much written off Hough as another wannabe actress -- but she’s actually quite good in this one. As is Duhamel, who has a laid-back charm about him here that showcases why he should get far more leading man roles than he does. Together, they’re magic. Still, there’s something about “Safe Haven” that makes it a bit forgettable. Maybe it’s the fact that this is our 8th Sparks outing, but at this point, we need a little more oomph. “Safe Haven” tries to accommodate that need by adding in a thriller element, which involves a cop who’s obsessed with finding Katie’s whereabouts. It works for the most part, showing us a side of Sparks we haven’t seen before. At least the men can’t say it’s all kissing and cuddling here.
There are some rather unnecessary plot devices at work towards the end, including a forced conflict between Katie and Alex as well as a plot twist that’ll potentially have some viewers throwing candy at the screen – but even so, this is still that kind of picturesque, sigh-as-you-watch romance that can’t help but satisfy that sugary-sweet craving we gals get around this time of year.
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