Starring: Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough, Cobie Smulders
Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom (“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”)
Written by: Leslie Bohem (“The Alamo”) and Dana Stevens (“City of Angels”)
It’s the week of Valentine’s Day and many men everywhere are preparing to give their wives, girlfriends and dates the best gift they can: trying to sit through a Nicholas Sparks book adaptation. The latest challenge comes in the form of “Safe Haven,” Sparks’ most recent book about a girl fleeing an abusive boyfriend.
In “Safe Haven,” a woman named Katie (Julianne Hough) arrives in a small North Carolina town where she hopes to start a new life. There, she meets Alex (Josh Duhamel), a widowed father of two who works at the local general store. Apprehensive and scared at first, Katie tries to move on all while looking over her shoulder for her ex, who is searching for her.
The first hour of “Safe Haven” is actually not all that bad. Sure, there is some jarring editing that randomly bounces back and forth between Katie’s new life and her boyfriend who is on the prowl for her. And let’s not forget the average acting from the chronically paranoid Hough and flimsy, useless characters like her friend Jo (Cobie Smulders). Let’s not forget the predictable romantic storyline that weaves its way through the first half of the film. But there’s also things that are okay, namely the charming and grounded performance from Duhamel who plays a devoted father and romantic lead quite well. There’s also a really nice performance from the adorable Mimi Kirkland who plays his daughter Lexi. The word good is perhaps too strong, but even though the romance is predictable and schmaltzy and the script is at times sickeningly saccharine, the first half of the film is relatively watchable.
The back half of the film is a different story. As things intensify and truths reveal themselves, Katie’s world becomes endangered and the film begins to crumble. The style of jumping back and forth between her life in North Carolina and her boyfriend trying to hunt her down wears out its welcome as the transitions become even more distracting when they start to include what really happened in her past. Events happen in the climax of the film that should have massive consequences but are for whatever reason completely ignored.
Then there’s the ending. The first wrinkle of the film’s ending is telegraphed and hokey and bad enough as it is. What follows can only be described as manipulative, nonsensical, god-awful garbage, and that is putting it lightly. It is a “twist” that turns out to form one of the dumbest endings to a film in recent memory. The bulk of the blame should belong to Sparks himself, since the book apparently shares the same ending. Audiences should be insulted that Sparks treats them like his own personal emotional marionettes, tugging at their strings and forcing them to react or cry by any means necessary.
While the film skirts the edge of watchability for a decent period of time, it is ultimately formulaic, factory-made, melodramatic dreck that is even further submarined by an ending so lame that even a sigh would roll its eyes at.
Starring: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise
Directed by: Adam Shankman (“Hairspray”)
Written by: Chris D’Arienzo (“Barry Munday”), Justin Theroux (“Tropic Thunder”), Allan Loeb (“Just Go With It”)
Isn’t 80s music the best? Sure, the songs can be kinda cheesy, but the catchy melodies, powerful vocals and wailing guitar solos gave birth to not only some of the most popular drunken karaoke songs around, but some truly enduring classics. So, fans of 80s hair metal, imagine all of your favorite songs turned into show stopping song and dance numbers, how awesome would that be? Wait..where are you going? Come back! That’s right, if you’ve ever wanted to hear Twisted Sister’s rebellious anthem “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and Starship’s universally mocked “We Built This City” mashed together for alternating battle cries in a fight between fans of a rock club and an angry mob of moms against rock, you are in for a treat. If you think that sounds absolutely awful, that’s because it is.
The film opens with a “small town girl” named Sherrie (Julianne Hough) stepping off a bus in LA where she hopes to make it as a singer. Shortly after stepping out and singing a few songs, Sherrie gets mugged and has her precious records stolen. There to help her out is a “city boy” (GET IT?!?) Drew (Deigo Boneta) who works at The Bourbon Room, a famous local rock club. After Drew gets Sherrie a job at The Bourbon Room, they browse around a record store, where Drew reveals that he is a singer that desperately wants to be a big star. Of course, he doesn’t just say this, he grabs a random hanging guitar, jumps on top of a shelf and belts out a rendition of Foreigner’s “Jukebox Hero” as almost a mini-concert, complete with a spotlight being shined on him and shoppers going nuts. When that settles, Drew reveals to Sherrie that he can’t be the star he wants because he has stage fright. That’s right. The guy who just made love to a Tower Records during business hours crumbles at the prospect of performing in front of a more traditional audience. Enter Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), an over-the-top rock star caricature who is either the most successful cover artist of all time or a rock and roll enigma who is responsible for classic hits like “(Wanted) Dead or Alive” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” To be fair, Cruise gives 100 percent to the sexually-charged and alcohol-fueled role, but that gimmick, combined with overplayed rock-star quirks like Cruise’s ever-present pet monkey, undercuts the character’s impact.
A major part of why “Rock of Ages” fails so completely is that the script is truly bad. Not only is it ridden with clichés and very unimaginative jokes, but nearly every line in the film serves as an uncomfortable, clumsy segue into another song. I actually let out an audible “ugh…” when, while explaining a potential job to Hough, Mary J. Blige tells her that she can have it “ANYWAY YOU WANT IT, THAT’S THE WAY YOU NEED IT.” It’s clear that cast members like Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand are having fun with their roles. It’s a shame that they are given such uninspiring material to work with. Another major problem with “Rock of Ages” is that it does a disservice to the music it borrows. Nearly everyone in the cast sounds like they were taken straight from a Broadway stage. Boneta, for example, is by no means a bad singer. But no matter what song he performs in the film, he does not sound anything like a singer from the 80s. In fact, the only member of the cast who captures anything resembling an accurate reproduction of the film’s songs is Cruise.
When thinking about “Rock of Ages,” its difficult to determine who the intended audience for this film is. Most diehard fans of classic rock and hair metal will hate hearing their favorite songs from the 80’s bastardized and turned into Broadway tunes. Perhaps fans of musicals will be charmed, but since it makes use of pre-existing songs of a specific genre, does there need to be some sort of overlap? When the film closes with a big stage production of the Journey song “Don’t Stop Believin’,” (SPOILER WARNING) I couldn’t help but laugh to myself when one of the cast members, without a hint of irony, delivers the line “the movie never ends it goes on, and on, and on and on…” Clocking in at just a shade over two hours, I couldn’t agree more. Those looking for a fun, nostalgic trip are better off spending their money on a Foreigner greatest hits album, cranking it up and singing along with their friends.
Starring: Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough, Dennis Quaid
Directed by: Craig Brewer (“Hustle & Flow”)
Written by: Dean Pitchford (1984’s “Footloose”) and Craig Brewer (“Hustle & Flow”)
Director Craig Brewer’s remake of “Footloose” opens as the original did, thumping along with the rousing kinetic energy of Kenny Loggins’ title track from the ’80s guilty pleasure. Only instead of shots of dancing feet against a “Cosby Show” backdrop, Brewer uses it to kick off the film’s narrative with the first of many genuinely exciting dance sequences. As fun as the scene is, some cognitive dissonance sets in when you realize the characters are actually dancing to the song “Footloose” made famous by the movie “Footloose” that is being remade here. So what made the song famous in this universe? Does the original “Footloose” exist for them? Are these people aware they share the same names and life events with people in a fictional movie made 26 years ago?
The plot unfolds differently, however, taking the opportunity to play out a scene only referenced in the original film. Immediately after leaving the party, five teenagers, buzzed on liquor and dance, are killed in a head-on collision with a semi truck. One of the teens is the son of local preacher Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid) who copes with his personal tragedy by leading an effort to save the children of Bomont, Georgia from themselves by setting out to criminalize loud music and public dancing.
Three years pass by the time Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald) sets foot in town. Having just lost his mother to leukemia, Ren is taken in by his kindly aunt and uncle. Already on the town’s radar as a troublemaker after getting pulled over for playing his music too loud, Ren is introduced to Reverend Shaw and his daughter Ariel (Julianne Hough) at Shaw’s church. It’s here that city boy Ren learns about the small town’s Draconian restrictions on his right to dance, igniting his rebellion.
If you’ve seen the original film, you know what happens from here. Somewhat surprisingly, Brewer sticks to the original screenplay nearly word for word, although changes have been made to accommodate the evolution of society. The casual drug use has been relegated to the “bad guys” and the existence of non-white people has been acknowledged, most notably in an electric reboot of the dance sequence at a diner set to hip-hop instead of ’80s cheese pop.
While welcomed in some respects, stripping away the insulating layer of cheese of the original exposes this updated film’s flaws. Hough oozes enough sex appeal in her dance sequences to derail a freight train, but falls flat when called upon to emote effectively. Wormald also captivates while in motion, but no one is going to forget Kevin Bacon’s take on the role. The same goes for Quaid’s Reverend Shaw, whose kinder take on the role pales in comparison to John Lithgow’s stern presence. Throw in odd plot distractions like Ren’s acrobatic punch-dancing in an abandoned warehouse and a school bus demolition derby (that replaces the original’s just-as-puzzling game of tractor chicken) and you begin to wish you had the guilty pleasure excuse to fall back on while watching.