A film review by Craig J. Koban July 11, 2013
2013, PG-13, 112 mins.
2013, PG-13, 112 mins.
Julianne Hough as Katie / Josh Duhamel as Alex / Cobie Smulders as Jo / David Lyons as Tierney
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom / Written by Leslie Bohem and Dana Stevens, based on the book by Nicholas Sparks
SAFE HAVEN safely has two things going for it: (1) Star Julianne Hough is endlessly photogenic in just about anything she’s a part of and (2) the film’s sumptuous and picturesque North Carolina settings are equally beautiful.
that’s about all this adaptation of Nicolas Spark’s novel (now the
eighth from Hollywood!) has going for it, as it's lost in a foggy haze of
Southern Gothic soap opera schmaltz, not to mention that it has a head-smackingly
inane ending that literally has to be seen to be believed.
was a true teary-eyed sucker for the earliest Sparks film adaptation, THE
NOTEBOOK, but it’s become agonizingly clear that each new film inspired
from his literary source material – from DEAR
JOHN, THE LAST SONG, THE
LUCKY ONE, and now this – have somehow become more laughably
forgettable and awful with each new addition.
What’s even worse is that Lasse Hallstrom is at the helm here,
whom is, to be sure, no stranger to adapting Sparks (he was behind DEAR
JOHN), but the director of such resoundingly fine dramas like THE CIDER
HOUSE RULES, WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE, THE
HOAX, and CHOCOLAT is kind
of nowhere to be found here. It’s
a lethargic journeyman-like turn for the veteran and acclaimed director,
someone who is certainly far above the type of cockamamie material here.
film begins by showing Katie (Hough) running through a suburban neighborhood, covered in blood, and seeking refuge.
A considerate neighbor lets her in, after which she cuts and dyes
her hair, gathers a few possessions, evades police, and heads to a nearby
bus station and proceeds to Southport, North Carolina, a wonderfully
out-of-the-way tourist destination that looks like it could easily conceal
her whereabouts from authorities back home. When she arrives, assumingly penniless and without any food
or shelter, she is forced to sleep overnight under a pier, but by the next
morning – presto! – she is able to inexplicably get a job as a
waitress at a local fish restaurant and rent a cute and cozy fixer-upper
cottage in the woods…all without any apparent background checks.
You’d also think that a woman wanted by the police would not want
to appear in public as a waitress at the most popular crab shack in the
town, but never mind.
Katie desperately tries to remain hidden from just about everyone, but she
does allow for an initially nosy neighbor, Jo (the attractive and
appealing Cobie Smulders) into her very tight inner circle.
However, since this is a dopey-eyed Nicolas Sparks romance, Katie
is required to hook up with the town hunk, the recently widowed Alex (Josh
Duhamel, who does underplay his role rather charmingly) who lost his wife
to cancer (Sparks loves killing off spouses to elicit future romances).
He runs the town convenience store with the help of his kids, and
as Katie shops there for home improvement supplies, there’s a Sparksian
spark between her and the hunky man from the get-go. Slowly but surely, Alex and Katie begin bonding,
which leads to love, some PG-13-ified moonlight love scenes, and Katie
becoming a surrogate wife to him and a mother to his kids. Alas, just when things are going a-okay, her dark past
swoons in and threatens her newfound happiness.
will say this: Hallstrom knows how to film beautiful actors and make them
look endlessly attractive. To be fair, Hough and Duhamel have nice, unforced, low-key
chemistry and are likeable enough to make viewers want to yearn for their
lifelong happiness. He also
knows how to present the fishing village locales of North Carolina
(Sparks’ adopted home state) with an ethereal and pristine glow that
helps embody the romance within the film with rich atmosphere.
Hallstrom at least has the capacity for generating good
performances from his cast and making a good-looking picture.
though, SAFE HAVEN becomes more stupefyingly predictable and routine the
longer it draws out. The visual and storytelling clichés of Sparks are everywhere
to be found here – handwritten letters from loved ones from the past,
terminally-ill spouses, the initial zeal of finding new love, love scenes
set during a downpour of rain, misunderstandings between lovers than later
gives way to forgiveness, yadda yadda – and the film certainly aspires
to tug at heartstrings as a preordained and pre-packaged Valentine’s Day
release. There’s nothing
inherently wrong with trying to ring sentimental tears out of moviegoers
(THE NOTEBOOK was tastefully manipulative at doing just that), but SAFE
HAVEN seems to be pathetically manufacturing conventional moments to
elicit such a reaction.
needs to be said about the final act and final few minutes of this film,
which will be mightily hard for me to do without going heavy into spoiler
territory, but I will endeavor to do my best here.
A crazed man – an alcoholic cop with, shall we say, personal ties
to Katie that obsessively wants to bring her in – becomes a heavy-handed
part of the film’s silly SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY-styled climax that
hits every perfunctory beat in the book.
But the real problem with the film is a final unnecessary reveal
that, if actually true, would leave us pragmatically thinking that Katie
is, indeed, a mentally unstable person that needs more to be in a
straight jacket than in the arms of her newfound love.
The ending contains such an eye-rollingly far-fetched and
preposterous plot twist that even M. Night Shyamalan himself would have
thought it to be a horrendous idea. Very
few films have gone from being derivatively watchable to intelligence
insulting during its finale as SAFE HAVEN.
Okay…okay…these films are not meant for me. I accept that. I really do. There are things to admire in SAFE HAVEN, there are just not in abundance. Again, I liked looking at both Hough and the painterly village vistas of North Carolina. The performances by all are decent enough and the main leads are equally appealing together on screen. Yet, SAFE HAVEN never really euphorically emerges as a moving, heartfelt, and invigorating southern melodrama worthy of our interest. That, and you’d think that an adept and wise filmmaker like Hallstrom would have demanded a re-write of the film’s ham-infested and frankly gag-reflex-inducing conclusion. You just may get whiplash from all of the headshaking you will do during it. Trust me.