The decent Safe Haven proves that men can watch chick films without needing to hurl.
In a desperate effort to demonstrate that I can recognize my human side, I present to you the following: I like romantic thrillers and well-made love stories. Who doesn't find Casablanca, Pretty Woman, or any well-made love story, a memorizing experience equal to an action film like Star Wars or the well-made drama Elizabeth? But there is a fine line, and the temptation to cross into Schmaltzville has been well-documented, resulting in thoroughly unwatchable, emasculating fare. Like so many failed submissions, the films based on Nicholas Sparks books come dripping with estrogen and a box of Kleenex with every ticket. Some like The Notebook have even entered the weird Breakup Movie list for those who maintain such things. Another of Sparks' melodrams - Safe Haven - enters the realm, determined it can be more. And while it wins on many levels, it's still not enough to establish it among the best.
Katie (Julianne Hough, Rock of Ages) flees her Boston home after an attack from an unknown assailant leaves her bloodied and frantic, landing up in the coastal village of Southport, North Carolina. There, she finds the widower Alex (Josh Duhammel, Transformers series) who runs the town's market to support his two children. On the surface, Southport's nothing more than a pit stop for bus riders, but Katie finds the surroundings appealing and decides to set up shop there, convinced that she won't be found. But the law is never far away, as police Detective Tierney (David Lyons, Revolution) unravels her whereabouts. He has a strange fascination for Katie, and once that's been revealed he drives to Southport to confront her. Meanwhile, Katie and Alex begin to fall for one another, leading to a violent clash at film's end.
Writer Leslie Bohem (Dante's Peak) is in unfamiliar territory here, and that's a good thing, because she takes what could have been an overly-sappy affair and actually makes it a bit... livable. Director Lasse Hallström (The Cider House Rules) also made Dear John, but this time he keeps things moving, spoiling us with pretty outdoor scenes and limiting the amount of long looks between our lovers. It's only near the end that the film goes face-to-palm, when Tierney violently confronts Katie. It's not that we don't see it coming, it's just the result seems completely unrealistic, making us wonder if test audience feedback forced a re-shoot. i will give credit to Bohem and Hallström for a final scene reveal that surprised many. If you like a little Sixth Sense with your romance, courtesy of How I Met Your Mother's Cobie Smulders, then Safe Haven will appeal to you.
Critics have slammed Hough for her performance and for the film in general. In fact, Haven is sentimental and sappy, destined to be written off as merely a chick flick. But it's got a couple of fun reveals, even if the schmaltz and the long loving looks are splattered about like a painting party gone horribly wrong. If you can get past the throwaway thriller ending, it's good date night material that should get you back into your significant other's good graces. And that garage still hasn't been put back together, so get on it before she makes you see Beautiful Creatures as well. Safe Haven is rated PG-13 for sexual situations and has a runtime of 115 minutes.
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