Someday an enterprising game company will create "Nicholas Sparks Bingo". Each card will have 24 squares (plus that ol' FREE space), but instead of numbers, they'll be filled with things like "Someone Dies", "Someone has Cancer", "North Carolina", and "Unbelievably Pretty People".
Welcome to the world of Nicholas Sparks-- though, to be fair, if you even so much as know the man's name, you're well aware of more than a dozen other things that should also be on the Bingo cards.
Safe Haven is the latest film adaptation of a Sparks novel (we've had eight so far... and counting), and by the end of its two-hour run time, your card will easily be full, and you'll be ready to shout "Bingo!" and collect your winnings.
I'm not sure if Valentine's candy is going to my head or if I've just learned to stop worrying and accept the Sparks, but Safe Haven, despite its numerous faults, actually isn't terrible. And, frankly, that's high praise.
Julianne Hough (Footloose) is Katie, a young woman who starts the movie by running frantically out of her Boston house and hopping on a Greyhound bound for Atlanta. A police officer isn't far behind, but she's able to escape, and she wakes up the next morning in a sleepy little Carolina (mark your card!) coastal village.
There she immediately (and rather incredulously) finds a new job and a new home before she's even had a chance to ask the name of the town.
Of course it just so happens that the very handsome (mark your card!) Alex (Josh Duhamel) runs the local market, and it also happens that he's single, since his wife died from cancer (mark your card!) years earlier. And did I mention that the police are still on Katie's trail?
No there's never really any doubt about how this will all end, so it falls on the actors to carry the day, and, well, they do. Duhamel and Hough are great together (thankfully his boyish good looks help you forget that he's 16 years older than her), and they have solid chemistry together. His two kids (Noah Lomax, Mimi Kirkland) are adorable, too.
Director Lasse Hallström (Dear John) does a nothing-special job here; the requisite sunset beauty shots abound, and there's very little screen time for Duhamel and Hough that isn't backlit like it's straight out of a dream sequence (mark your card!). And frankly the pedestrian script by Dana Stevens (City of Angels) and Gage Lansky is chock-full of coincidences and conveniences. (Thankfully the police officer is a belligerent drunk-- there would be no other way to explain most of his asinine behavior otherwise.)
Through it all, though, it's hard not to get sucked in, and the copious sniffles I heard behind me in the theater are, I suppose, a testimony to that. It's simple, really-- if you have no desire to watch this movie, and if the mere mention of Sparks's name gives you agita, well, obviously stay away.
It's as predictable as a Carolina summer day is long, and there's nothing new here you haven't seen before (save one little twist that I can only imagine will leave the cynics rolling their eyes so hard they'll pop out of their sockets), but the real question is-- would I ever deign to declare that Safe Haven isn't too bad, at least as Nicholas Sparks movies go?
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@popcollin is the resident movie critic at Essex Cinemas in Essex, VT, and Cumberland 12 in Plattsburgh, NY.