Nicholas Sparks is a name brand. In a kind frame of mind, you could even call him reliable. His romances, designed to milk as many tears out of an audience as he can extract, have been consistent box-office successes since The Notebook made Ryan Gosling a sex symbol. His latest, Safe Haven, offers no surprises.
Former Dancing With the Stars hoofer Julianne Hough stars as Katie, a pretty, dark-haired twentysomething who, as the movie opens, flees from a crime scene, taking shelter at the home of a kindly next-door neighbor, changing her hair color, and then hopping a bus to Atlanta. She eventually lands in a rural North Carolina town where she rents a rundown house buried deep in the woods, and tries to keep to herself.
Alex (Josh Duhamel), who runs the local convenience store with the help of his young son and daughter, is interested in the beautiful new girl in town, and eventually gets her to warm up to him with his kindness. Katie’s attempts at isolation are also thwarted by her closest neighbor, a woman who also seems to be hiding from something.
In between slow-paced scenes of Katie settling in, we’re treated to glimpses of an alcoholic, deranged detective trying to find her, and in his attempt to do so he eventually sends out a nationwide APB declaring her a suspect in a murder investigation. When Alex sees this, their budding relationship takes a huge hit, and Katie must be straight with him about her troubled past.
In the hands of Lasse Hallstrom, you might hope for better than Safe Haven. He handled another Sparks adaptation, Dear John, which was actually one of the more interesting entries in the writer’s filmography, but Safe Haven settles for routine before devolving into corny silliness and pedestrian attempts at horror cliches.
Hough is certainly pretty, and she can rock a pair of Daisy Dukes -- Hallstrom never misses a chance to show us that -- as well as anybody, but she isn’t much of an actress. She’s not bad, just bland, and the script didn’t bother to work up a scene where Katie can dance so that Hough could do what she does best. The closest we get is a lovely moment where she stands on one foot, washing paint off the other foot she’s got up in a sink. It’s a graceful throwaway moment, a fleeting glimpse at how wasted she is in the rest of the movie. Duhamel is a standard-issue hunk with more charisma than Hough. You can buy his attempts to win her over, even if you don’t believe for a second he’s lived through watching his wife die from cancer.
If Nicholas Sparks’ name is enough to get you to pay to see a movie, Safe Haven probably won’t disappoint, but if you’re allergic to his patented brand of tear-jerking stay far, far away. And if you’re curious about what all the fuss is about, just check out The Notebook. leave a comment --Perry Seibert