Review: 'Safe Haven' is routine romantic thriller
This film image released by Relativity Media shows Julianne Hough, right, and Josh Duhamel in a scene from "Safe Haven." (AP Photo/Relativity Media, James Bridges)
LOS ANGELES (AP) — It's easy to understand why Hollywood loves doing business with author Nicholas Sparks. His books are huge best-sellers, and several of the films adapted from his novels — "Message in a Bottle," ''The Notebook," and "Dear John" — have achieved impressive box office grosses. The latest Sparks adaptation, "Safe Haven," will probably continue his winning streak, especially with its Valentine's Day opening pegged to lure female fans. A thriller element that has not been present in earlier Sparks movies is designed to draw reluctant male viewers to see the picture, but they won't respond with the same enthusiasm as his core audience of woozy romantics.
The mystery plot recalls a 1991 Julia Roberts movie, Sleeping with the Enemy, in which the heroine fled an abusive husband and tried to re-invent herself in a brand new community. In this case our heroine, Katie (Julianne Hough), runs away from a toxic marriage in Boston, boards a bus, and on a whim gets off in a small seaside community in North Carolina. There she meets a sensitive widower, Alex (Josh Duhamel), raising two young children on his own. Because of their troubled histories, they approach each other warily, but there's little doubt about where their relationship is headed. Before long, however, a nasty blast from Katie's past arrives to threaten her newfound bliss.
This film image released by Relativity Media shows David Lyons in a scene from "Safe Haven." (AP Photo/Relativity Media, James Bridges)
The first problem with the film is that the burgeoning romance is too flat to generate intense audience empathy. Alex's daughter, who barely remembers her mother, warms to Katie immediately, but her older brother has a harder time with his father's new relationship. Still, this complication isn't especially well developed in the screenplay by Dana Stevens and Gage Lansky. In addition, the two main characters are such paragons that there are no real psychological impediments to their union. To jack up the tension, director Lasse Hallstrom (who also helmed the film "Dear John") keeps intercutting scenes of a grim, hard-drinking Boston cop (David Lyons) determined to track Katie down. But the gauzy romantic interludes prove to be something of a yawn. When her nemesis finally arrives in North Carolina, the film does develop some effectively suspenseful moments. But the drama is a long time coming.