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Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Starring: Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, Cobie Smulders
Length: 115 minutes
Another year, another Nicholas Sparks adaptation. Another apple on the tree ripe for Valentines Day plucking. Whether or not you find the Nicholas Sparks formula repetitive, it has certainly been successful. Although some critics may sneer, adaptations like The Notebook and A Walk to Remember were adored by audiences. Lasse Hallstrom now returns to the helm for the latest project, Safe Haven, but this flick will struggle to garner any such adoration.
The audience meets Erin (Hough) in a fast paced opening sequence: frantic, fearful breathing, dark lighting and intercut opening titles, she is on the run from someone or something. The mystery is gradually if blatantly revealed via intermittent flashbacks throughout, but for now, it being a Sparks film, where else could Erin escape to but North Carolina? She adopts the name "Katie" and dyes her hair the brightest shade of blonde in the L'Oreal spectrum, hoping for a clean slate. Unfortunately, finding a clean slate is tricky when you are being hunted by a policeman.
Then, in what appears to be the only shop in the sleepy town of Southport, Katie meets owner, idealised romantic stereotype, and widowed father of two, Alex (Duhamel). When romance blossoms after encouragement from Katie's neighbour, Jo (Smulders), she promptly purchases a house in the middle of the woods (that one from every horror film ever made). And she's surprised when she has nightmares.
Safe Haven reliably deals with the Sparks motifs of loss, trauma, the overlapping of past and present and the redemptive power of love. But the film also felt confused. It attempted to double as a thriller with the addition of a ridiculous supernatural twist at the end. Its identity grew even more muddled when practically recreating the infamous boat scene from The Notebook, rain and all, but with less angst and passion. Both Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel give bland performances, which are further undermined by the serious issues that the film incorporates but never really explores. As usual, however, the location is beautifully filmed, tinted with romantic hues and glimmering reflections on water.
Although it is vaguely engaging, Safe Haven ultimately offers little credible emotional impact and will leave even the Sparks fans rather disappointed.