Directed by: Lasse Hallström
Premise: An adaptation of the novel by Nicholas Sparks. A woman on the run (Julianne Hough) settles in a small coastal town and falls for a shop keeper (Josh Duhamel).
What Works: The character played by Josh Duhamel is a widower with two kids and the family relationship is the best part of Safe Haven. The troubled rapport between the father and the son (Noah Lomax) has a few nice bits. Also impressive is the daughter, played by Mimi Kirkland. The young actress delivers dialogue very naturally and has good comic timing but the fact that the most interesting character in the movie is an eight year old girl portends a lot of Safe Haven’s failures.
What Doesn’t: Most pictures adapted from the novels of Nicholas Sparks have a familiar style both in the narrative and in the overall tone. Safe Haven is different than many of the other adaptations of Sparks’ books as it is missing some of their overly familiar elements like nautical set pieces or supporting characters that suddenly develop a terminal illness. The trouble is that the filmmakers don’t replace those clichés with anything and Safe Haven is a difficult movie to describe because there just isn’t anything in it. The film runs just short of two hours but there is nothing coherent about it. The movie is a collection of scenes, not events juxtaposed in a cause and effect relationship, and the picture never makes much sense. There are all kinds of credibility problems with the story. Julianne Hough’s character runs away from her marriage under mysterious circumstances and upon arriving in a small town she takes a job as a waitress and rents an isolated cabin. Apparently neither her employer nor her realtor bothered to ask her for a social security number, a valid identification, or a credit report, which is convenient since she does not appear to have any of those things with her. A lot of movies make logical leaps like this but they get away with it by preoccupying the viewer with the drama at hand. The gaps of Safe Haven stick out because the movie is so boring. Quite literally nothing happens for the first two thirds of the story. This portion of the movie is supposedly about a courtship but the romance between Duhamel and Hough’s characters is flat. There is no spark between them and their romance is unbelievable. The fault for that is largely found in a script that does not give its actors anything to do; they never act in a way that concretely demonstrates their love. But the failure of Safe Haven is also found in the casting of Julianne Hough, an actress Hollywood continues to foist on moviegoers despite her proven inability to carry a picture. The character she plays in Safe Haven is a battered woman who may have murdered her abusive husband but Hough has none of the darkness or trauma that the role calls for. Instead she is often bubbly and googly eyed over Duhamel’s character. As the movie goes on it makes less and less sense. The more the film exposes about why Hough’s character went into hiding, the more her decisions look stupid. The filmmakers of Safe Haven outdo themselves in the ending with a ridiculous twist that comes from nowhere and is entirely out of place.
Bottom Line: Of the movies adapted from Nicholas Sparks’ novels, Safe Haven is the most absurd and that is saying something. But worse than the plot foibles is how flat the movie is. Viewers go to a romance to experience heartache but at Safe Haven they’re more likely to feel bored.
Episode: #429 (March 3, 2013)