Is it possible to find love after suffering a major romantic setback? That's part of the premise behind the new romantic drama "Safe Haven," which was based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, that succeeded mostly due to the chemistry between the two stars of the film.
"Safe Haven" followed Katie (Julianne Hough) who was on the run from an abusive relationship with a cop named Kevin Tierney (David Lyons) willing to do anything to get her back, even fake a legal document to make her look like a criminal. He also had a violent temper and a drinking problem that made Katie a target of his rage. With the help of a neighbor (Irene Ziegler), Katie did everything she could to hide her identity and went on the run on a bus headed for parts unknown. She impulsively made the decision to stop in Southport, North Carolina in an effort to start over. Katie got a job as a waitress at a local restaurant and learned to trust her instincts again. She made friends with her neighbor Jo (Cobie Smulders) who had a major secret of her own. Katie also struck up a growing relationship with local store owner/widower Alex (Josh Duhamel) and his two young children as they struggled with the death of Alex's wife. Katie's presence allowed Alex's family to be happy, but they didn't expect for a romance to blossom between Katie and Alex. As they inched closer to happiness, their happiness was threatened by Katie's past and a mysterious threat that was headed their way. Will the new couple be able to survive everything that was coming their way?
In terms of plots, "Safe Haven" seemed to be following a very similiar format to previous films based on Nicholas Sparks' novels. The story started with a lost boy and an equally lost girl as they danced around their feelings before finally giving into temptation. Of course, a dark secret is revealed that threatened to ruin everything before they decide to face the music together. Sure, the plot may be mostly predictable, but Hollywood was wise to release the movie on Valentine's Day because it's the perfect date movie that celebrated love in its purest form. What also seemed to hinder the movie a little bit was that it seemed to follow a rather conventional story format instead of trying to make the story more of a human interest piece that demonstrated how two emotionally damaged people could pick up the pieces together. The story also suffered from some major plot cliches that seemed to turn certain stories into Lifetime movie of the week fare, such as the subplot of Katie's abuse. The story could've had major impact if it was explored a lot sooner and not told in in scattershot flashbacks. Hough had the acting chops to pull the weighty material off, but she wasn't truly given a proper chance to do so. The movie could've also focused on how Alex's family was truly coping with his wife's death and how their connection deepened because of it. Unfortunately, that won't likely happen until the next Nicholas Sparks novel is made into a movie.
As for breakout performances, Hough and Duhamel had a genuine rapport that seemed to elevate the plot beyond being an ordinary romantic drama. Their scenes together brough the right amount of levity and emotional impact to keep viewers invested, even if the plot was obvious from the very beginning. Duhamel brought a level of playfulness as he tried to play the devoted father who struggled to find his purpose in life. His most memorable scene came when he realized that he was in love with Katie after he basically pushed her away out of fear. Duhamel showed Alex's anxiety and hopefulness as he tried to find the woman he loved before she left town. Viewers couldn't help but root for him as Duhamel's Alex appealed his case to Katie, which she happily accepted to the delight of everyone involved. Hough's breakthrough scene came towards the end when she was forced to confront her past head on and managed to survive it narrowly. Lyons and Smulders also deserved honorable mentions for playing what could've been thankless supporting roles. Smulders' role came with an unexpected plot twist that was hard to believe and came out of left field. It was a twist that no one saw coming. Lyons, on the other hand, had the dubious task of playing the film's most unlikable character and managed to give him a tortured human quality. Lyons' Kevin was a cop who was an abusive man and a victim of his own addictions, which sealed his fate from the very start. Hopefully, Lyons will get the chance to shine as a villain or a leading man one day.
"Safe Haven" opened on February 14th and is in threaters everywhere. Check your local listings.
Verdict: A romantic drama that had some talented stars and an unexpected twist that no one saw coming.
Movie Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Movie Rating: PG-13
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)