‘Safe Haven’ Review
As a longtime science fiction fan, there was a part of me enthralled by 'Safe Haven.' This newest adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel may as well be set on another planet – a world where everyone is perfect, (except the one guy who is bad), the weather is wonderful (even when it rains) and you can support yourself off of tips from the lunch shift.
Shot in a postcard-ready coastal town, but in the blandest possible way, this overwrought weepie about finding your "true home" is far too silly to get worked up about, and has all the daffy joy of mass dosing on multiple episodes of 'All My Children.' While too much exposure to this material could cause developmental damage to young girls (much as violent video games to young boys) biting the bullet and taking a date to such a film once in a while is, I suppose, the price of being in a relationship these days. 'Safe Haven' won't hurt too much if you keep your wits about you.
We open with the quite fetching Julianne Hough eluding the cops and getting on a bus heading to Atlanta from Boston. At a sleepy North Carolina stop that's all sea gulls and dinghies she slips off, quickly finds a waitressing job, a cabin in the woods and an unending supply of tank tops and tight T-shirts. Despite a desire for anonymity she starts making friends. First with a neighbor (Cobie Smulders) then with Josh Duhamel, the dreamiest dreamboat in dreamboat town.
Duhamel runs the little General Store – where one can buy rice, paint and take a free book on the way out. He is handsome, rugged, honest and kind. He's also a widower with two kids, a sad boy just old enough to remember his late mother and a moppety girl who speaks in sound bites. Duhamel is quick to profess intense and (by movie standards) chaste love to Hough, but only if she'd open her heart.
But how can she, when she has a dark secret (shown in flashes) and has Boston detective, played by David Lyons, tracking her down for the crime of . . . murder!
Could Hough actually be a murderer? Sure, why not, you might find yourself thinking, because if not there's absolutely nothing going on with her character. Much like Bella Swan she is really just an empty vessel – a gorgeous, smiling, short-shorts wearing blonde, pert and naturally sexy in deceivingly unsexy clothes. (Just add a splash of summer rain on a canoe trip and, voila.) Hough exists purely to be loved unconditionally by the tall, outdoorsy-yet-domesticated Duhamel, who must be pushed away because clearly we don't deserve such a man until we finally admit that we do. The only thing we'll ever learn about her in this film, other than her need to feel safe and desire to feel love, is that she knows kale has protein.
You don't need me to tell you there are some third act fireworks and reversals, but, boy howdy, there are last-minute (and completely unnecessary) twists of the knife that had the preview screening I attended groaning. I say go for it. 'Safe Haven' is the movie equivalent of a “when you see one set of footprints in the sand” inspirational poster, with all the hokey platitudes and insidious reactionary politics it implies. May as well go whole hog. The dead mother left presumptuous letters behind for her kids – the son gets one when he graduates, the daughter gets one on her wedding day. It's subtle, but infuriating.
Hough gets a letter, too, as the thoughtful wife knew, even on her death bed, that there would some day be another “her.” By this point in the film the children have been in peril, Hough and Duhamel had slow danced and, wouldn't you know it, a little well of emotion stirred in me – 'Safe Haven' had beaten me down and I wanted to see these two beautiful creatures in love. I'm only human.
'Safe Haven' opens in theaters on February 14.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.