Leave it to the romance king himself, author Nicholas Sparks, to have his 2010 novel Safe Haven adapted into a movie set to be released on Valentine's Day. It's just all too fitting. And who better than fellow romance connoisseur, Lasse Hallstrom, to direct the feature? Couple the team with rom-com heartthrob Josh Duhamel and up-and-comer Julianne Hough, and you've got yourself a hit drama, right? Not so fast.
Safe Haven tells the story of a young runaway going by the name of Katie (played by Julianne Hough) who finds herself settling down in a small North Carolina town. Trying to re-adjust after escaping from a dark and doomed past, Katie meets a widowed store owner and father of two named Alex (played by Josh Duhamel). Although both have their reasons for being hesitant about starting a new relationship, they can't help their uncontrollable feelings for one another. Everything seemingly appears wonderful, until Katie's troubled past catches up with her and their love is tested.
Safe Haven is a stereotypical and run of the mill drama from the often tapped into Nicholas Sparks brand. While most of his adapted works that made it to the big screen have received mixed to negative reviews, it feels as though Sparks' stories have taken a significant step down since 2004's theatrical release, The Notebook. Although Safe Haven is by no means the worst of the bunch, it offers very little to the average moviegoer. First, the film's near two hour running time plays out like a slow dripping Chinese water torture. Attempting to generate depth to his characters, Hallstrom instead loses the audience's focus by serving up nothing valuable to the story. Furthermore, there's inconsistencies galore. For example, with a flick of a switch Alex's son goes from being upset about his father's new relationship to extremely welcoming of the idea. The fact that Hallstrom places so much attention on the boy's disapproval, only to allow it to suddenly dissipate in an instant, illustrates the director's mishandling of the movie. Finally, after the suspenseful climax of the film, Hallstrom delivers a shocking revelation that never manages to fit well with the final onscreen product. I haven't read Sparks' novel, but I'm sure the book serves as an adequate platform for the surprising twist. However, the film does not.
Despite Safe Haven's uninspiring and standard love story, the picture does an exceptional job of building tension and suspense through its clever subplot. Although the antagonist is completely over-the-top, Sparks creates an original tone very distinct from his other work. This allows for a thrilling edge of your seat showdown that only disappoints with its overacted extremes. In addition to a unique and tense approach, Safe Haven benefits from the fine onscreen chemistry displayed by Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough. While neither of the leading pair gives an undisputed knockout performance, both are sustainable and their affection resonates with sincerity.
As loyal and hard-nosed fans of Nicholas Sparks' other adapted films will find plenty to enjoy, I view Safe Haven as an average romance movie at best. There are glowing aspects to the feature as well as brutal ones. The bobbling inconsistencies prevent Safe Haven from being anything other than a pedestrian movie experience. Unless your significant other falls victim to the genius Valentine's Day marketing ploy and forces you to go to the theatre, or you are dying to see it yourself, I recommend taking a pass on Safe Haven. There's plenty of other fish in the sea.