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Movie Review: “Safe Haven”

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Safe Haven movie poster

Valentine’s Day means to Nicholas Sparks what Halloween means to Stephen King.

Before I go ahead with my review of Hollywood’s latest version of the cinematic love story “Safe Haven,” I must warn anybody reading this of one thing – I am the planet’s biggest hater of cinematic love stories.

I told somebody it’s like asking a vegetarian what they think of that new steakhouse that just opened up or asking a volunteer for the SPCA what they think of the Philadelphia Eagles re-signing Michael Vick. In other words – there’s going to be a wee, teeny bit of bias there.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I made a pact with myself that I would go into this particular movie with the utmost objectivity and treat this viewing like any truly professional film reviewer would. I would put all of my personal preferences aside and for the 90 minutes-or-so that I would spend watching “Safe Haven,” I would do so with an open mind – not just an open “notebook.”

And I did.

I cleared any and all of the preconceived notions that I carried in my cranium regarding what so many refer to as the “chick flick,” and left them all at home.

And to my surprise, I was actually enjoying the first ten or fifteen minutes of the movie.

I got pulled into the opening scene – in which cute, little Grey Riding Hood, a.k.a. Katie, (played by Julianne Hough) scampered through a crowded bus station, all the while evading what appeared to be a police officer, and eventually hopped on a bus that was heading to Atlanta.

I started to feel a bit of empathy for Katie – as she decided to not get back on the bus to Atlanta and stay in the small, yet charming, beachfront town of Southport, N.C. in order to start a new life and stay hidden from that intensely tenacious police officer.

“Why was that police officer so hell bent on finding Katie, anyway?” I found myself pondering.

I began to root for Katie, as she found a job and a cheap “fixer-upper” during the time span of the first day in her new hometown. By the way, Southport must be the only town in the country where people actually utter, “What recession?”

I continued waving my pom-poms in Katie’s direction, as she met the village hunk Alex (played by Josh Duhamel), who made all the ladies in the audience swoon – as he was an upstanding local business owner, an attentive father to his two kids, a down-to-Earth, sensitive Mr. Fix-it AND (to top it all off) a recent widower whose wife tragically passed away from cancer. Basically, Alex represents that perfect guy that none of us guys can compete with, but yet….. I was still on board.

It was about the midway point when I felt the objectivity and the blank- slate perspective slowly slipping out of my grasp.

It’s not like I couldn’t see this coming. I mean the film is based on a

 

The cast of “Safe Haven” takes a break from filming to shoot an ad for Newports.

book by Nicholas Sparks – who literally makes his living by creating bittersweet romance novels that are written for a new generation of independent women. The kind of women who make it a point to say to you, “Hey, I don’t read romance novels… but I do read Nicholas Sparks. He’s different.”

Just look at extremely popular 2004 film “The Notebook”- another film adaptation from a novel by Sparks – which, according to any female friends and/or family of mine that were born before 1975, is considered the most powerful and life-affirming piece of cinema that has been released since James Cameron’s “Titanic” came out in 1997.

Although I haven’t seen “The Notebook,” I can only imagine that “Safe Haven” is trying to sponge off the popularity of Sparks – who has seen a whopping eight of his books turned into movies since the Kevin Costner vehicle “Message in a Bottle” came out in 1999 – and five of them, including “Safe Haven,” have been post-’Notebook.’ However, from what I’ve heard about his films being great (which is a relative word), I can’t imagine that “Safe Haven” stands up to the rest of them.

Like I said earlier, I tried to give it a chance, but the movie just got too …well… ridiculous. Remember, that police officer that was looking for Katie in the beginning. Well, without telling you who he is, I will tell you one thing. This “threatening” character of Tierney (played by “Eat Pray Love’sDavid Lyons) turned out to be decidedly “non-threatening.” In fact, the more you learn regarding his so-called sordid past and evil, ulterior motives, the less of a villain he becomes.

I won’t give away the ending (even for a movie of this caliber, I won’t play the spoiler), but – how can I put this – something happens late in the film that I seriously thought might have been the worst direction an ending of a film has EVER taken in the history of film endings. I’m just saying’, is all.

Two, quick, final observations, if I may:

I just wanted to say that it’s a damn shame to see director Lasse  Hallstrom go from quality, cinematic efforts like “The Cider House Rules” and “Chocolat” to THIS in a little over a decade. In fact, this is the second of Sparks’ books that he has helped onto the screen – the first being “Dear John.” Maybe, he just likes turning books into films. Regardless Lasse, come home (and back to meaningful movies).

And, I happened to mention “Eat Pray Love” earlier, which starred a seasoned Julia Roberts. This is weird because many viewers are comparing the plot of “Safe Haven” to an early Roberts film, 1991’s “Sleeping with the Enemy.” Just do yourselves a favor and don’t additionally try to compare Julianne Hough to a young Julia Roberts. She might be cute. She might have a million-dollar set of pearly whites that light up a movie screen. She might even have some impressive box-office receipts after this Valentine’s Day weekend. However, there is one thing that Hough will never get that Roberts’ has, this I guarantee.

In fact, if Julianne Hough ever, ever, ever wins an Oscar, like Roberts eventually did – I promise – I will finally sit down and watch “The Notebook.”

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