WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS TO THIS MOVIE AS IT HAS BECOME INCREASINGLY IMPOSSIBLE TO TALK ABOUT IT WITHOUT GIVING CERTAIN THINGS AWAY. IF YOU DON’T WANT THE MOVIE RUINED FOR YOU, SEE IT BEFORE READING THIS REVIEW.
I have to confess that I had not read any of Nicholas Sparks’ books or seen any other cinematic adaptations of his work before I sat down to watch “Safe Haven,” so I’m not sure whether to blame him or the screenwriters for ripping off the plot of “Sleeping with the Enemy.” Those expecting this to equal the greatest of Sparks’ cinematic adaptations, “The Notebook,” will be severely disappointed as even those who haven’t seen that one will be confident in admitting that it doesn’t even come close. “Safe Haven” lacks any sense of originality, and it is completely undone by a couple of ludicrous plot twists that sink any legitimate reason for this movie to exist at all. Watching it reminded me of why I typically avoid romance movies in general.
Julianne Hough from the “Footloose” remake and “Rock of Ages” stars as Katie Feldman, and at the movie’s start we see her running for her life for reasons that are later made clear. Katie is seriously desperate to avoid police detective Kevin Tierney (David Lyons) that she even makes herself look pregnant in the hopes that it will throw him off. She ends up escaping his clutches and takes a bus out to the small town of Southport, North Carolina where she looks to start a new life.
Now I love how people like her want to escape a dark past by moving to a new town, and yet they move to one that’s not all that far away from where they used to live. Word to the wise: if you want to move away to where no one can find you, try moving to another state or country. Even with the advances in today’s technology which render anonymity a joke, you have a better chance of not being found out if you go to a place you can’t drive to in a day’s time.
Anyway, Katie gets a job as a waitress at a local restaurant and ends up leasing a beautiful apartment out in the woods (where she found the money for such a place is beyond me). We know that she is looking to avoid any personal connections as the last one she had caused her a lot of psychological damage, but someone as adorably cute as her is bound to find a suitor whether she wants one or not. That man comes in the form of Alex Wheatley (Josh Duhamel from those god awful “Transformers” movies), a widow with two kids. Alex lost his wife to cancer a few years ago, and he is having trouble relating to his kids (especially his son). Guess who fills the missing part of his life…
Okay, as much as I despised “Safe Haven,” I have to admit that Hough and Duhamel do have good chemistry together and they do make a cute couple here. Hough herself has a wonderful earthiness to her that makes her seem more down to earth than other movie actresses her age I can think of. Even if her range as an actress only goes so far, she has a very appealing presence here. While we’re at it, damn you Ryan Seacrest for making her your girlfriend!
As for Duhamel, he does himself some good by not giving an emotive performance as Alex. I expected him to be overdoing for the whole movie, but Duhamel doesn’t make his character a whiny little bitch or the typical self-pitying widow that inhabits the romance genre. Alex has suffered a terrible tragedy in his life by losing his wife far too soon, but we see him moving on as well as he can and not wasting too much bemoaning what is missing in his life.
Now I mentioned at the start of this review how this movie is essentially a rip off of “Sleeping with the Enemy,” and that’s even before the movie’s first big twist is revealed. We watch as the Kevin becomes increasingly obsessive in finding where Katie is hiding out as it is implied that she is wanted for first degree murder. But it eventually becomes to light that Katie is actually Kevin’s husband, and from there we know exactly where the story’s heading.
There’s a flashback sequence Katie and Kevin which shows what drove the two of them apart, and watching it made me wonder what Katie ever saw in this creep in the first place. In a lot of ways I feel sorry for Lyons, best known for his work on the TV series “ER” and “Revolution,” because I’m sure he came into this project believing that he wasn’t just playing any ordinary villain, but that’s essentially what Kevin Tierney is. The character is here to give us someone to despise, and he really serves no other purpose to this story as a result.
I am also amazed at how Katie stabbed Kevin pretty hard with a kitchen knife (we don’t see where he’s stabbed exactly as this is a PG-13 movie), and yet he somehow recovers from the knife wound in record time. Maybe the American health care system is slightly more effective than we think, but even the smallest of stab wounds still requires an extended period of time to recover from.
Furthermore, Kevin spends a good portion of this movie drunk off his ass. Now maybe this explains how he copes with the pain from that knife wound, but seeing Kevin trying to outdrink Denzel Washington’s character in “Flight” renders him unintentionally hilarious as a result. While Kevin is meant to be a frightening presence in “Safe Haven,” all he really ends up being is an abysmal idiot who is lucky to have survived as long as he has.
But then comes “Safe Haven’s” second big plot twist, and this one is ripped off from “The Sixth Sense.” By the movie’s end we come to discover that one of Katie’s friends is not all who they appear to be, and I kept waiting for Katie to say “I see dead people.” This ludicrous revelation calls into question everything we have seen in this movie. Are certain characters here meant to be delusional? If the filmmakers wanted to make “Safe Haven” the romance movie answer to “The Usual Suspects,” they failed miserably.
Speaking of which, the director of “Safe Haven” is Lasse Hallström and his career as a director has always fascinated me. He has gone from directing great movies like “My Life as a Dog” and “The Cider House Rules” to such pure drivel as “Dear John.” You are never sure if his next movie is going to be way too sentimental or not sentimental enough, but this time he outdoes him by being cloyingly manipulative. While he still does an admirable job of getting good performances from his actors, you come out of this movie hating him for playing with your emotions so shamelessly.
I don’t know, maybe I should read Sparks’ books to see if what doesn’t work in a movie actually works on the written page. I’m sure there are a lot of reasons why he remains a best-selling author after so many years, but after watching “Safe Haven” I wonder what those reasons are. We are still early into 2013, but this is already a contender for one of the worst movies of the year. “Safe Haven” is far too silly to be taken seriously, and the absurdity of its plot twists makes the whole endeavor feel like a pointless one even for fans of romance movies.
If you don’t see many more reviews of romantic movies from me in the near future, this review should give you an idea of why.
* ½ out of * * * *
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