Stars: Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, David Lyons, Cobie Smulders, Noah lomax, Mimi Kirkland, Ric Reitz, Cullen Moss, Robin Mullens and Red West.
Writers: Leslie Bohem and Dana Stevens; based upon the novel by Nicholas Sparks.
Director: Lasse Hallström
“Nothing very much exciting happens, but it sure is beautiful,” utters our square-jawed leading man Josh Duhamel, and there is no more apt description of Safe Haven. Yet another bewilderingly bland late-career effort from the once important Lasse Hallström and his second adaptation of a Nicholas Spark’s novel, this Valentine’s Day programmer will earn serious points for patient boyfriends but in every other respect is slumber party home-video fodder.
Hallström’s melodrama is essentially a reworking of Joseph Ruben’s Sleeping With The Enemy, in which Julia Roberts flees a violent Patrick Bergen to start all over again in a small town with Kevin O’Connor, only to have Bergen reappear for a third act face-off. Roberts was a winning screen presence who drew audience empathy effortlessly (in what was an otherwise dire effort); Hallström is lumbered with the exceedingly pretty but one-note Julianne Hough as Katie, who we glimpse in flashback blood-stained and fleeing what appears to be a murder scene.
Clearly a strategic career move to alter perceptions regarding the young actress’ range after song-and-dance parts in Burlesque, Footloose and Rock of Ages, Hough’s greatest achievement is reminding audiences of Meg Ryan in her prime. Co-scripters Leslie Bohem and Dana Stevens struggle to give her anything remotely engaging to say, thereby relying upon the actress’ admittedly endearing physicality to convey character depth.
That said, her chemistry with the increasingly reliable Duhamel is solid, his single-dad Alex the film’s most fully realised character (though, it must be said, his wavy hair and tragic past is classic ‘airport-romance hero’). Acts 1 and 2 are almost entirely their burgeoning, getting’-to-know-you romance, which is cute but dry-docks any pretence of suspense or narrative momentum. The ‘Bergen’ is played by David Lyons, who nails ‘violent-drunk’ convincingly in flashback domestic scenes that are lit with unsubtle, Hostel-like darkness, but whose home-grown skills (NIDA, Class of 2004) can’t pull off some nonsensical police-procedural scenes that damages all sub-plotting credibility.
Support player Cobie Smulders impresses here to far less an extent than she did in The Avengers, her character’s very existence proving to be the films ultimate undoing (no spoilers, but….really?). The idyllic seaside village in which the action takes place is the film’s real star, its salty flavour and surrounding woodlands beautifully captured by DoP Terry Stacey. A heartfelt interlude in which Katie and Alex are caught in a bayou thunderstorm is lovingly rendered (author Sparks loves rain; remember The Notebook?), but it’s sweet romanticism only serves to highlight how lacking in that crucial component the film really is.