Safe Haven is the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation, taking the novelist's standard tropes (romance in the Carolinas, dead relatives, kisses in the rain) and adding some thriller elements to spice up the mix. This comes via Katie (Julianne Hough), a woman we first meet covered in the blood and apparently running for her life. Katie is then shown trying to escape town on a bus with a detective (David Lyons) in hot pursuit. She succeeds and finds herself in a tiny as can be coastal town in the aforementioned part of the country.
What follows in a decently engaging romance between Katie and Alex (Josh Duhamel), a widowed father of two who runs the neighborhood store. This is standard Sparks stuff, told once again by Lasse Hallstrom, the crafter of another of the author’s adaptations (Dear John). When Safe Haven is about a wounded woman trying to let someone in again and a man making his first steps into back into love, the movie engages simply. Hough and Duhamel have an easy charm together with breezy personalities. Alex’s kids, particularly the very young Lexi (Mimi Kirkland) are a nice addition too. Kirkland is highly enjoyable, funny in the way kids are actually funny and without the quirks or traits that filmmakers often shove onto children to make them more unique.
If Safe Haven stuck to the lovey-dovey stuff as its sole trait, it would be a likable, not outstanding picture. Those thriller beats strain for credulity from early on and keep popping up every ten minutes or so to interrupt the compelling smooches. Hallstrom stages scenes of Lyons’ obsessive detective and his slowly revealed motives in a manner akin to a lackluster cop show. The music gets ominous, the colored get diluted and nothing other than mumbles and over-the-top threats make up the plotting. Apparently, the book ignores the mystery element of this narrative, laying out the facts of the matter from the first chapter. While that wouldn’t make these scenes click, it would undoubtedly make for a cleaner experience.
Sadly, well, not too sadly, this movie will likely be remembered solely for its final twist. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher in terms of its necessity and without question will leave many bewildered and tittering at the reveal. There’s a good hour in Safe Haven, it’s just all before the last act.
Safe Haven opens wide all across Seattle on Valentine’s Day.