Almost all of the Nicholas Sparks’ novel-to-film adaptations can be encapsulated in one sentiment — wistful.
Once again audiences are brought to experience another of Sparks novel thrust upon the silver screen in director Lasse Hallström’s (“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”) “Safe Haven.”
Marking the second collaboration between Hallström and Sparks, who previously helmed another Sparks adaptation, “Dear John,” this film is a step down in terms of quality.
Sparks movies have a checkered past. There can be unabashedly great movies borne out of them like “The Notebook,” reasonably good films like “Dear John” and “The Lucky One” and then there are truly risible adaptations like the glorified engagement announcement video that was “The Last Song.”
“Safe Haven” is extremely inferior to the last film Hallström directed of Sparks novel “Dear John,” which contained superior acting, plotting and restraint in the central romance.
“Safe Haven” relies heavily on a completely ridiculous twist, although there are no shortages of them in the film. On the surface, the film revolves around a young woman named Katie (Julianne Hough, “Rock of Ages”) who goes to a small town in North Carolina and meets a widower named Alex (Josh Duhamel, “Movie 43’). However, there are plot twists thrown in with Katie’s secret past.
The film asks audiences currently invested purely in the relationship between Alex and Katie to not only hold steadfast with this escalating romance, but an added layer of supernatural balderdash which actually retroactively hurts the past events’ credibility. The supernatural elements add unnecessary questions to an emphatically simple story that did not need to be complicated, and comes off as manipulative rip-off films like “P.S. I Love You” and “The Sixth Sense.”
Secondly, the film follows almost too closely to a Sparks’ narrative, which almost always features the main characters kissing in the rain or some form of cancer afflicting one of the important or tertiary characters. In “Safe Haven,” it is Alex’s wife whom the disease has taken, and lightly drawn characters who have some sort of dangerous past, or at least one that is delicate.
That is not to say that it cannot be used with great ingenuity, as already stated, but there is never an instance in “Safe Haven” where there is any dramatic weight that breaks the formulaic structure that Sparks novels don’t already exert upon the film.
Finally, romance films almost always rely on the strength of the chemistry and acting ability between the screen couple and in “Safe Haven.” Hough and Duhamel are serviceable, but they seem only to exist to be ogled at as the camera lovingly shoots them in very scant amounts of clothing while flouncing around on beaches.
There’s an overtly saccharine sheen that covers “Safe Haven” that is equally disrupting. Everything is shot in a golden hue by cinematographer Terry Stacey, who shot “Dear John” and “P.S. I Love You” exceedingly well, but here seems on autopilot. Children are brought out to add that extra layer of syrupy cuteness that is gratingly unappealing, and the twangy, country-infused score becomes indistinguishable from a Lifetime film stock music.
There is no safe haven in this movie for a film lover, unless you count ducking under the seat.