? Safe Haven. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom. Starring Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough.
Rating: 6 (out of 10)
Complex characters are not the stuff of Nicholas Sparks movies, and happy endings are a given. So any mention of 'predictable' is moot in this perfectly timed, Valentine's week release of Safe Haven.
The story is about a young woman fleeing her abusive husband. Katie's (Julianne Hough) plight is made all the more risky by the fact that her husband is a cop (played by David Lyons) with the patience and the resources to track her down. After cutting and dying her hair and boarding the first bus out of Boston, Katie disembarks at a small, scenic seaside town.
Anchoring Southport, North Carolina, is a general store run by Alex (Josh Duhamel) a widower with two young children (Mimi Kirkland and Noah Lomax). He is still grieving the loss of his wife but intrigued by the secretive newcomer, who is both cute and good with his
kids, after all.
Each of them is as clingy and as damaged as the other, which makes for a slow courtship. But that's one thing the film gets right: the relationship between Alex and Katie proceeds at a satisfactory pace, making things believable and building up some degree of sexual tension (lacking in later love scenes).
Jo (Vancouver's Cobie Smulders), is Katie's nearest neighbour and persistent friend. She counsels Katie to be open to a life with Alex. "Life is full of second chances," she says sagely. Jo's pop-in-and-out presence is a bit of a mystery. An extra scene or two cementing their bond would've made the film's twist more potent.
As is always the case in Nicholas Sparks adaptations, the love story is stymied by emotional baggage and bad weather. Carolina rainstorm notwithstanding, it only takes one canoe trip for the couple to be hooked.
Can Alex and Katie let down their guards and learn to love again? Will Katie's husband find her and will there be a violent, life-affirming climax?
The soundtrack and "sleepy little town" lyrics are as comfy as those well-worn summer sandals, and there's no arguing with the beauty of the vistas, which are one big tourism ad for North Carolina's coast, with its white sand beaches and idyllic little towns. (NC Tourism was quick to jump on the idea, offering an Experience the Film Sites of Safe Haven itinerary, at visitnc. com)
Duhamel is as dreamy at age 40 as he was in 2004's Win A Date With Tad Hamilton, and makes a perfect hunky, wounded widower. He picks up the slack from Hough, who got her start on Dancing With The Stars. Hough got her big break with the remake of Footloose and followed up with Rock of Ages, but this is her first movie that doesn't involve singing and dancing.
Hough has got cute down pat but can't quite deliver the drama, not yet.
But putting aside practicalities (where are Katie's dark roots? There must be a really good salon in town), Lasse Hallstrom, who also directed Sparks' Dear John, has made a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Under his direction a schmaltzy story of grief, abuse and new beginnings is fairly watchable, as far as these films go, though aficionados will note that it's not the cry-fest that usually characterizes a Sparks adaptation.