Safe Haven Movie Review
Nicholas Sparks strikes again with yet another film based on a misty-eyed novel about tormented seaside romance in the romanticised American South. It's so trapped in Sparks' cliche-ridden universe that we know the entire plot right from the start, including expectations of a maudlin, possibly supernatural twist along the way and an over-sentimental climax. Fans of this sort of thing will love it, but everyone else will struggle to see it as anything more than simplistic rubbish.
The woman in peril this time is Katie (Hough), who is introduced while on the run, dying her hair blonde and jumping on a midnight bus out of Boston. When she arrives in a picture-postcard North Carolina fishing town, she takes one look at hunky shopkeeper Alex (Duhamel) and decides to stay. Not only is he handy with home repairs, but he has two smart, observant young children (Kirkland and Lomax) he's raising on his own. Even Katie's new neighbour (Smulders) thinks she should grab him while he's single. But she is of course running from something, and a tenacious cop Kevin (Lyons) on her trail.
In every movie based on a Sparks novel, we know exactly who is good and evil from the start. Sure enough, Kevin is clearly bad because he drinks vodka and is accompanied by menacing music every time we seen him. We also know there will be a surprise along the way, something that stretches the already fragile story logic beyond the breaking point. And in this film, it's also something cunningly designed to wrench tears from sensitive audience members. But everyone else in the audience will laugh at how inane it all is, bravely resisting the manipulative storytelling all the way to the happiest possible ending.
The problem with all of this is that it actually trivialises some extremely serious issues, from grief to spouse abuse, merely to crank up the sentimentality. As he did with another Sparks weep-fest Dear John, Hallstrom at least keeps everything pretty to look at, including the wildly beautiful actors who at least try to add some shadings to their characters. But by removing any authentic humanity from the situations, Sparks and the screenwriters leave everything feeling fake, with sappy dialog accompanied by a surging score that flattens any moments of real emotion or humour. And most annoying of all, the ending actually gets to us.