Movie review: 'Safe Haven' is another safe romance


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Nicholas Sparks has a favorite formula: An enigmatic loner lands in a picturesque North Carolina town where he -- or she -- finds love with a local who is either divorced or widowed.

A tentative courtship melts into sun-kissed bliss, but a misunderstanding or a thorny reminder of the past conspires to break the couple apart. Tragedy ensues, but the audience knows a romantic resolution will be delivered before the end credits.

With "Safe Haven," Mr. Sparks adds flourishes of a thriller and mystery as bookends, but he hugs the shore with the tried and true, translated to the screen by director Lasse Hallstrom ("Salmon Fishing in the Yemen," "Dear John," "My Life as a Dog") and screenwriter Dana Stevens.


'Safe Haven'

2 stars = Mediocre
Ratings explained

  • Starring:

    Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel.

  • Rating:

    PG-13 for thematic material involving threatening behavior, and for violence and sexuality.


"Safe Haven" opens with a Boston woman, Katie (Julianne Hough, "Rock of Ages," "Footloose"), frantically fleeing her home and boarding a bus headed south. The circumstances of her departure are teased out, but when the bus stops in a peaceful coastal community of Southport, N.C., she opts to stay.

Katie lands a waitress job, rents a cabin in the middle of the woods -- if this were a horror movie, she would be a goner -- and slowly warms to Alex (Josh Duhamel), the handsome widowed father of two who runs a general store. She realizes his kindness is just that, his daughter (Mimi Kirkland) is adorable, and even his son may be coming around.

But what happened in Boston doesn't stay in Boston in "Safe Haven," which pulls out all of the stops, throws in a drunken, overwrought and abusive character and another haunted by the past. The ending is designed to bring tears and surprise although I didn't hear any sniffles or gasps at the preview I attended.

Tidy up the language and "Safe Haven" could easily air on broadcast television. But you don't go to a Nicholas Sparks movie expecting edgy, risky, funny, a romantic Rubik's cube or R-rated material.

You go hoping that the lightning of "The Notebook" will strike twice, but that probably will never happen.

No, you expect a screen version of homemade macaroni and cheese, something that's comforting, familiar and not seeded with weird ingredients. That is just what you get with "Safe Haven," right down to the good-looking couple caught in a downpour, losing track of time as they talk and dry out, and then breaking into an impromptu dance to an irresistible song on the radio.

The darker elements of the book are kept to a minimum, and while it deals with life and loss, don't go expecting "A Good Day to Die Hard."

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies. First Published February 14, 2013 5:00 AM


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