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.