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The Independent Critic

Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough, David Lyons, Irene Ziegler, Mimi Kirkland, Noah Lomax, Robin Mullins
Lasse Hallstrom
Dana Stevens, Leslie Bohem, Nicholas Sparks (Novel)
Rated PG-13
115 Mins.
Relativity Media
Extras: deleted and extended scenes, alternate ending. Also, on Blu-ray: a set tour, Duhamel's "Lessons in Crabbing" and "Igniting the Romance in Safe Haven" featurette.

 "Safe Haven" is Really More Sterile 
What happens when you take two fairly one-note performers and put them into a film based upon a Nicholas Sparks novel?

You get Safe Haven, a stunningly sterile little film that will still likely do loads of box-office its opening weekend unless guys can manage to convince their romance-seeking dates that somehow the even more insipid Please Just Die, or whatever that new Die Hard movie is called, is actually an even better date flick.

Good luck with that.

Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, who knows better, Safe Haven centers around Katie (Julianne Hough), a transient drifter whose entire aura feels heavy as she arrives in the small town of Southport, North Carolina with some obviously heavy baggage and a determination not to bond with anyone or any thing. Her determination to remain free from the bonds of relationship is challenged when she meets Alex (Josh Duhamel), a widower with two kids, and her kindly new neighbor Jo (Cobie Smulders).

This is a Nicholas Sparks inspired film. You know what that means - Eventually, sparks will fly and in the end love will absolutely conquer all. Of course, we also know there will be lots of fears, tears and soap-style conflicts along the way. In fact, it occurred to me on more than one occasion that both Duhamel and Hough seem tailor-made for the soap opera school of cinematic drama, a method of acting that is far more overwrought and broad than one usually finds in a theatrical release.

But, this is a Nicholas Sparks film.

I do have to give the casting folks a certain degree of credit, because both Duhamel and Hough have a similar way of presenting themselves on the big screen. While Duhamel has a touch more range than Hough, and he sure does have a goofy charm that works within the film's small town setting, they both are limited enough in their range that their chemistry is at least modestly believable.

I swear that's a compliment.

if Ryan Gosling had been opposite Julianne Hough, Safe Haven would have been an awkward and uneven film.

Well, unless Gosling took off his shirt. That makes everything better. Right?

Safe Haven has pretty much everything we've come to expect from a film based upon the writings of Nicholas Sparks - beautiful people in beautiful settings with beautiful camera work waxing eloquently about how life isn't beautiful until, Gasp!, life becomes beautiful again for the beautiful people in the beautiful setting with the beautiful camera work.

Safe Haven manages to throw a few twists in, though they border on ridiculous and they add very little to the film. Though, if we're being honest, the same was true for Safe Haven the novel, which even most diehard (You knew I'd get a "Die Hard" reference in, right?) Sparks fans will acknowledge is one of his lesser works.

That's saying a lot.

The film has action sequences, though they are horridly done and severely disrupt the tone of a film with an already disrupted tone. Hallstrom is capable of being a mighty fine director, but he clearly has either not previously been in the Sparks universe or he simply doesn't quite "get it." It would be like letting Dennis Dugan direct a Twilight film - he may get the technical aspects just fine, but he'd simply never nail that "tone" that was all important to the twi-hards.

Even if you've found yourself a fan of a good majority of the films based upon Sparks' novels, there's a pretty good chance that you'll be at least modestly disappointed with Safe Haven. If you actually liked the one with Miley Cyrus, please stop reading and go visit another site.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic