Nov 6, 2014

Review: Safe Haven (2013)

It's amazing how Nicholas Sparks has turned his romance book empire into a scheduled yearly movie release isn't it? 2010 had two releases in Dear John and The Last Song so we can count one of those for 2011. Following that there's been a Sparks adaptation every year. I'm not convinced that the box office takes will be consistently good forever but you got to hand it to the guy for turning schmaltzy romantic books into schmaltzy romantic movies that certain people really seem to like.

Safe Haven brings in director Lasse Hallström who has already done a Nicholas Sparks adaptation. With Dear John under his belt, he's the only Sparks veteran. I knew right away that even if Safe Haven was pretty bad, at the very least it would be a pretty-looking bad movie. Hallström seems to usually stick to very familiar ground with his movies, but at least he can make things look nice.


Genre: drama, romance, thriller
Directed by: Lasse Hallström
Produced by: Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Ryan Kavanaugh, etc.
Written by: Dana Stevens, Gage Lansky
Music by: Deborah Lurie
Running time: 115 minutes
Production company: Relativity Media, Temple Hill Entertainment, Nicholas Sparks Productions
Distributed by: Relativity Media, Alliance Films, Momentum Pictures, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $28,000,000
Box office: $97,594,140 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, Cobie Smulders, David Lyons, Mimi Kirkland, Noah Lomax, Irene Ziegler, Robin Mullins, Red West, Juan Carlos Piedrahita, Cullen Moss, Mike Pniewski



Katie (Julianne Hough) flees her home in a panic. It's not exactly shown what's happened, but she did have a bloody knife in her hand. Did she kill someone? She makes her way to a bus station and buys a ticket. A cop (David Lyons) is on her trail but she's able to get away before he can catch up. While stopped at Southport, North Carolina, Katie decides that she's found her destination and rents a small house a little ways out of town in the woods. She gets a job as a waitress and this is where she also meets Alex Wheatley (Josh Duhamel), an attractive widow with two children.


Safe Haven is a little bit different from the usual Nicholas Sparks fare because of the whole thriller element. Let's be honest though, these thriller moments are pretty much devoid of any real tension and are guilty of what could be called jump scares. It's definitely a little weird, but I'm sure that the reason for the jump scares is probably to make up for the half backed thriller attempt. I can't really think of any other reason.

The big problem with Safe Haven is that it's incredibly predictable. That's why it's really hard to ever really worry too much about Katie during her big getaway or getting through any of her other stressful moments. Probably to match its title, Safe Haven is an extremely "safe" movie. There's no actual feeling of danger when there should be and there's never a doubt that characters are going to make it out OK.

For the most important aspect of this film which is of course the romantic aspect, Safe Haven fails pretty much in every way. Early conversations between Katie and Alex sound fake and unnatural. They sound like how you wish all your conversations went in real life, even the awkward ones. Early on, Katie and Alex have a couple of short encounters before their budding relationship gets magically cultivated by a montage where they are both thinking of each other. It's this kind of cheapness that makes it impossible to really buy their relationship as real.

Another thing that also really annoyed me was how the viewer is made to be manipulated by the daughter of Alex, Lexie (Mimi Kirkland). She's made to be sunny, quirky and unbearably cutesy. She's also super annoying. Lexie ends up being a major reason why Katie and Alex are able to end up together. I just don't buy it. This is the same kind of thing as seeing a busload of kids in an action movie that our hero has to save. It's nothing more than a manipulative Hollywood construct and I ain't having it.

It's painfully obvious though what the reason is going to be for the inevitable "breakup" between Katie and Alex. Read my synopsis again if you have to, it's definitely not rocket science. Alex will find out about the whole possible killing thing and be all upset that Kiatie's a liar. How could he ever trust her again? He had her in his home for crying out loud! You know the drill. Even Josh Duhamel seems pained during this scene for actually having to perform in it.

Julianne Hough is largely emotionless and resorts to a lot of hair acting. She's always got some strands in her face which she flips about and touches constantly. She's mostly known as a dancer and she should probably stick with that if SH is any indication. Josh Duhamel isn't that great either but the dialogue he's got isn't that great anyway. He could afford to sleepwalk. The worst moments for both of them was during their big big breakup. It's an awful, awful scene with terrible lines and both of them miserably strike out. It looks like they could've used some more takes there for sure.

(Spoilers) Just to address the big twist of the movie, it's one that resorts to just hiding the necessary details from you. Abusive husband Kevin Tierney turns more and more into a comically bad guy character and David Lyons isn't really able to bring much to the screen. Once everything is revealed through flashbacks, the result is more of a dull thud than a bang that really shocks you. That's not what twists are meant to do. It's the kind of twist that will look really unclever upon a second watching and looks dumb anyway if you really think about it. The other "good twist" regarding the dead wife of Alex is just cheesy beyond belief. The less said about it the better. (End Spoilers)

The only good thing I can really say about Safe Haven is that it's a relatively pretty movie. That was the good thing about bringing in Lasse Hallström, but he's directing a shell of a movie here. It's underdeveloped and unconvincing as far as romances go. There are problems with the dialogue and the script in general which can be pinned on Nicholas Sparks' book anyway. A change in tone and this could be a satire on romance movies in Hollywood easily. With $97,594,140 in box office earnings around the world, it looks like this is exactly what people want unfortunately.



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