Reviewed by Ian Forbes
Director Lasse Hallström used to make great movies like My Life as a Dog, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, and The Cider House Rules. I don’t know what happened (I suspect Y2K) but now he’s releasing his second, HIS SECOND, Nicholas Sparks adaptation, Safe Haven.
For those who don’t remember, he was at the helm for the Channing Tatum & Amanda Seyfried led Dear John … which I will admit I didn’t hate. So how would I feel about Hallström now ordering Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough around a rainy set?
Safe Haven is a slight departure for the Nicholas Sparks films I’ve sat through to this point. All that I can probably say without spoiling things is that there are certain key moments/plot developments that he’s become known for that don’t actually happen here and change is often good. This is still a love story, and I will admit upfront I liked this far more than the last few Sparks’ adaptations but I hope the ladies don’t feel the need to make Valentine’s Day a torture gauntlet for the guys by thinking that makes it okay to make this a date movie. Like all the others of its ilk, this is something you gather your girlfriends together for and leave the guys at home in blissful peace.
That being said, perhaps the most surprising aspect of the movie is that Julianne Hough put in a generally good performance. Her turns in Footloose and Rock of Ages have been less than inspiring and seeing her given the lead here, I was expecting to be laughing under my breath from start to finish. However, she ably captured the unease and fear necessary for the role in the early segments of the movie and shared some nice chemistry with Josh Duhamel, who’s made a habit of these rather bland but innocuous leading male roles. He dishes out what we’ve seen time and time again but I’m not expecting anything more in a film like this. The lynchpins to the success of the movie are the two actors portraying Duhamel’s kids: Noah Lomax and Mimi Kirkland. Lomax is the older brother and does a decent job of capturing the confusion and anger that follow the loss of a mother at such a young age. Kirkland is a ridiculously adorable and sweet little girl, bringing a warmth and lightness to the proceedings that help keep it afloat during other elements of the movie that don’t work quite so well.
Now that I’ve given myself the green light to find the negatives, I’ll start with the villain of the movie, portrayed by David Lyons. There’s a traumatic event that precipitates Hough’s flight to the sleepy North Carolina town where she meets Duhamel. That’s all well and good but the foreshadowing of Lyons’ intentions and connections in relation to Hough ruin what could have been a quasi-decent twist. Also, there’s another attempt at a twist (which seemed to work for much of the screening audience) that I’ll admit took me about half of the movie to figure out … but when I did, I just shook my head and rolled my eyes, waiting for the shoe to drop and be completely annoyed; sometimes thinking critically about a film gets you in trouble and this is definitely one of those cases. That last twist is actually so cheeseball that it eroded some of the admiration I had begun to feel for the movie.
That being said, I hope no one reading this would confuse me for the target demographic and if I can sit through this somewhat comfortably, it should mean the Sparks’ fan club should feel right at home here. The screening audience loved it and there’s a sweetness to the production that manages to carry through, even with a rather ineffectively plotted conflict scenario. I’m by no means saying that moviegoers not already interested in the movie should give this a shot at the theaters, let the die-hards wade through the schmaltzy, predictable romance. For all you Y-chromosomes, there’s literally a Die Hard to choose instead (though at the time of writing this, I haven’t seen McClane’s latest so the best choice may be not to play at all. We’ll see.).
Oh, and BOOM. Wargames quote. Deal with it.
Safe Haven hits theaters on February 14, 2013 and is rated PG-13 for thematic material involving threatening behavior, and for violence and sexuality.
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