Crap From the Past: ‘Safe Haven’ – Another Misbegotten Nicholas Sparks Adaptation
WRITER’S NOTE: THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS AS IT HAS BECOME IMPOSSIBLE TO TALK ABOUT THIS FILM WITHOUT GIVING CERTAIN THINGS AWAY. IF YOU DO NOT WANT IT RUINED FOR YOU, SEE IT BEFORE READING THIS REVIEW.
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 * * * *