Crap From the Past: ‘Safe Haven’ – Another Misbegotten Nicholas Sparks Adaptation


I must confess, I have not read any of Nicholas Sparks’ books nor have I seen any other cinematic adaptations of them before I sat down to watch “Safe Haven.” As a result, I am not sure whether to blame him or the screenwriters for ripping off the plot of “Sleeping with the Enemy” for this misbegotten effort. Those expecting this to equal the greatest of Sparks’ cinematic adaptations, “The Notebook,” will be severely disappointed as even those who have not seen that Julia Roberts starring vehicle will be confident in admitting this one falls way short. “Safe Haven” lacks any sense of originality, and it is completely undone by a couple of ludicrous plot twists which sink any legitimate reason for this film to exist at all. Furthermore, watching it reminded me of why I typically avoid romance movies in general.

Julianne Hough from the “Footloose” remake and “Dancing with the Stars” stars as Katie Feldman, and at the start we see Katie running for her life for reasons which are later made clear. Katie is ever so desperate to avoid police detective Kevin Tierney (David Lyons) to where she even makes herself look pregnant in the hopes 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 hopes to start a new life.

Look, I love how people want to escape a dark past by moving to a new town, but for some immensely stupid reason they move to one which is not all that far away from the place 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 typically render anonymity a joke, you have a better chance of not being found out if you go to a place you cannot drive to in one 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. Of course, where she found the money for such a place is beyond me and every other audience member. We know she is looking to avoid any personal connections as the last one she was involved in 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 suitor comes in the form of Alex Wheatley (Josh Duhamel from the 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 do have to admit that Hough and Duhamel have good chemistry together and make a cute couple here. Hough herself has a wonderful earthiness which makes her seem more down to earth than other actresses I could quickly think of while watching this film. Even if her range as an actress goes only so far, she has a very appealing presence here even if it might seem a bit too vanilla for some.

As for Duhamel, he does himself good by not giving an emotive performance as Alex. I expected him to be overdoing it for the whole film, but he doesn’t make his character a whiny little bitch or the typical self-pitying widow who often 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 he does not waste much time bemoaning what is missing in his life.

Now I mentioned at the start of this review how this film is essentially a rip off of “Sleeping with the Enemy,” and this proves to be the case even before the first big twist is revealed. We watch as the Kevin becomes increasingly obsessive in discovering where Katie is hiding out as it becomes 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 I knew exactly where the story was heading which had me rolling my eyes endlessly as a result.

There is a flashback sequence in which we see what drove Katie and Kevin 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 television series “ER” and “Revolution,” because I am sure he came into this project believing he was not just playing any ordinary villain, but this is essentially what Kevin Tierney is. The character is here to give us someone to despise, and he really serves no other purpose to this film beyond that.

I was also amazed at how Katie stabbed Kevin pretty hard with a kitchen knife. We do not see where he has been stabbed exactly as this is a PG-13 movie, and yet he somehow recovers from this 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 require an extended period of time to recover from. No one just jumps out of bed a day after a sharp object is inserted into their body as the word “ouch” takes on a very significant meaning when this happens.

Furthermore, Kevin spends a good portion of “Safe Haven” being drunk as a skunk. Now maybe this explains how he copes with the pain he is forced to endure from that knife wound, but seeing Kevin trying to outdrink Denzel Washington’s character in “Flight” renders him unintentionally hilarious as a result. While this character 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. The fact he still has a pulse by this film’s midpoint is quite astonishing to say the least.

But then comes “Safe Haven’s” second big plot twist, and this one is ripped off from “The Sixth Sense.” At the end, we come to discover one of Katie’s friends whom she has confided in throughout is actually not alive and died some time ago. As a result, I kept waiting for Katie to say “I see dead people.” This ludicrous revelation calls into question everything we have seen up to this point. Are certain characters here meant to be delusional, or is it just circumstance that they are talking to a walking corpse? If the filmmakers wanted to make “Safe Haven” the romantic movie answer to “The Usual Suspects” or any of what my friends would call “mind fuck” motion pictures, 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 such great movies like “My Life as a Dog,” “The Cider House Rules” and “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” to pure drivel like this and “Dear John.” You are never sure if his next film 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 cast, I came out of this film hating him for playing with the audience’s emotions so shamelessly.

I don’t know, maybe I should read Sparks’ novels to see if what did not work in a movie actually works better on the written page. I am sure there are a lot of reasons why he remains a best-selling author after so many years, but watching “Safe Haven” makes me wonder what those reasons are. This film is far too silly to be taken seriously, and the absurdity of its plot twists makes the whole endeavor feel like a pointless cinematic adventure.

Following this misbegotten motion picture, I did my best to avoid any kind of romantic movies. Granted, there have been some like “What If?” which surprised me, but there have been others such as “The Choice” which was also based on one of Sparks’ novels. If you do not see many reviews of romantic movies or romantic comedies on this website, I am sure you will understand why.

* ½ out of * * * *

‘Spider-Man: Far from Home’ is a Fun Ride, and it May Be the Web Slinger’s Last in the MCU

Spider Man Far From Home Theatrical Poster

So, after a summer filled with an endless need to make ends meet, I finally got the chance to check out “Spider-Man: Far from Home.” Watching it at this point proves to be bittersweet as this may be the character’s last time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Disney and Sony are in a battle over profits. Spider-Man does whatever a spider can, but even a spider can fight only so much against greed and capitalism before he is undone or rebooted. It’s a crying shame because Peter Parker and his alter-ego were wonderfully reinvigorated thanks to Tom Holland who, ever since “Captain America: Civil War,” has proven to be the best Spider-Man yet. Here is hoping this will not be the last time we see Holland in this role as he keeps us invested in this teenager’s never-ending struggle between managing adolescence and being a superhero.

Eight months have passed since the events of “Avengers: Endgame” in which our heroes thwarted Thanos’ snap (everyone else calls it “the blip”) but did so at a great cost. Peter still mourns the death of Tony Stark as he tries to get back to being just a friendly neighborhood superhero, but Tony’s face is everywhere and it seems like everyone else expects Spider-Man to be the next Iron Man. It’s a lot to place on the shoulders of any one person, let alone those of a teenage boy eager to tell the girl he has a mad crush on how he truly feels about her.

A better title for this “Spider-Man” outing would have been “Spider-Man’s European Vacation” as Peter and his classmates which include his best friend Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) and love interest MJ (Zendaya), travel to Europe and some neighboring countries. Peter sees this as a much-needed opportunity to take a break from his Avenger duties and just be a kid, and Ned sees it as a chance for the two of them to be American bachelors in Europe because, or so he says, “Europeans love Americans.”

Of course, none of us can expect any Avenger to get much vacation time as the Water Elemental strikes with a vengeance in Venice, leaving our characters to run for their lives. Peter quickly springs into action, but he is aided by another superhero who goes by the name of Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), but we all come to know him as Mysterio. Even though the two of them save the day, Nick Fury (the always reliably bad ass Samuel L. Jackson) shows up to tell him his help is needed. Peter protests how he is not ready to extend his duties beyond Queens, New York, but Fury bluntly reminds him, “Bitch, you’ve been to space!”

“Spider-Man: Far from Home” works best when it focuses more on the human element than on the spectacle. Spider-Man has always proven to be one of the most human of superheroes in movies and literature as his personal problems are no different from the ones we experienced at his age. Deep down, we all wanted to seem normal to our fellow classmates, and so does Peter. Still, hormones and awkwardness among other things needlessly but inevitably complicate our lives to where we are left with a lot of emotional scars which take forever to heal, if at all. Peter Parker is the MCU’s prime example of this, and it makes you admire him all the more as his juggling act is made all the more challenging throughout.

Jon Watts returns to the director’s chair after having done an excellent job with “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” and he infuses this installment with the same amount of fun and excitement. Along with screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, he makes Spider-Man’s predicament parallel with the insane times we live in as “alternative facts” and “fake news” have been given far more power than they ever deserved. Whether or not our heroes win the day, we are left to wonder if they will ever be able to fully control the narrative. As one character points out late in the film, “People need to believe, and nowadays they’ll believe anything.” As much as I hate to quote Rudy Giuliani in this or any other review, his ridiculous statement of how “truth is not truth” is played to great effect throughout this movie and its post credit scenes.

The thin line between reality and fiction is put to the test in an amazing sequence in which Spider-Man is thrust into a simulated world which alters his perception of reality in the same frightening way Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law were in David Cronenberg’s “Existenz.” Just when Peter thinks he has a handle on things, so do we, and this proves to be our Achilles heel as reality is not at all what it used to be.

The climatic battle in “Spider-Man: Far from Home” ends up containing a bit too much in the way of CGI and suffers from overkill as a result. It is entertaining to sit through, but the overuse of visual effects ended up taking me out of the action more than I would have liked, and it makes this sequel pale in comparison to “Homecoming.” It always sucks when you watch a visual effect knowing it is a visual effect because there are many moments in this film which made me feel the exact opposite. Still, it failed to take away much of the enjoyment I had in watching these characters suffer through one of the best and worst field trips any of us could ever hope to have.

I also gotta say just how much I love this cast of actors. Aside from Holland, you have the great Martin Starr who is a deadpan delight as academic decathlon teacher Roger Harrington, “Iron Man” director Jon Favreau who gleefully returns as Harold “Happy” Hogan, Marisa Tomei who has long since proven to be the most alluring Aunt May of all, Cobie Smulders who remains an enticing and powerful presence as Maria Hill, and J.B. Smoove is a hoot to watch as science teacher Julius Dell. In addition, Tony Revolori returns as Peter’s classmate and YouTuber Eugene “Flash” Thompson as it allows us to see something many of us have wanted to see done to the most annoying YouTubers of all; get a swift kick in the balls.

It’s fascinating to watch Gyllenhaal here as he was almost cast as Spider-Man at one point. Seeing him making his first appearance in the MCU is a most welcome one as he has long since proven himself an actor to be reckoned with in movies like “Nightcrawler” and “Nocturnal Animals.” As Mysterio, he makes this character a complex one as he sympathizes with Peter’s plight while proving to be a bit of an enigma. When the truth of Mysterio is revealed to all, it made me respect Gyllenhaal’s performance all the more as it shows how he has to play not just with Peter’s mind, but the audience as well. Looks can be deceiving, and Gyllenhaal makes them especially deceiving here.

Like I said, watching “Spider-Man: Far from Home” proves to be very bittersweet as this may very well be the very last time we see this iconic character as part of the MCU. It’s a real shame as the first post credit scene we get foretells of a dark future for Peter Parker as his life is completely compromised through, among other things, doctored footage. Where can he go from here? It’s an infinitely interesting question.

Whatever happens from here, we will always have J. Jonah Jameson.

* * * out of * * * *