‘Safe Haven’

You know it’s funny. Most of the movie going public just can collective sense a Nicholas Sparks’ books to film coming by now. Granted he surprised all of us with “The Notebook” (And how it seemed every girl we ever dated wouldn’t shut up about it) but after catching lightning in a bottle once with an overly sentimental, but arguable enjoyable film, Sparks just decided to start phoning it in. For the uninformed, Nicholas Spark is simply an author of dime-store romances that are crafted to specially target women. He keeps the essential “guy meets girl” plot, picks a setting, inserts a tragedy for them to overcome (cancer tends to be his favorite, but World War II, 9’11, and Alzheimer’s have been used), and prints his money.

His success with getting “The Notebook” produced into a movie and the steady gross it generated, insured that he’d be shopping a lot of books into film with the same damn poster of an attractive white male trying to devour the face of an attractive white female from now until presumably time stops. “Safe Haven” is simply the latest offender.

This time around the plot centers on a battered woman named Katie (Julianne Hough) who flees from her abusive police officer husband (David Lyons) to the sleepy portside town of Southport, North Carolina. Determined to rebuild her life and forge a new identity, she slowly but surely integrates herself into the tight-knit community when she meets store clerk and single dad of two, Alex (Josh Duhamel).

Suffice to say if you’ve seen a single Sparks story or simply glanced at the poster promoting the film, it’s not too hard to guess how this ends. Granted, any good romance made us like the central characters so we don’t mind watching them and hoping they end up together. And to Hough and Duhamel’s credit they do they best they can with what bare bones script there is. But this movie feels more like a greeting card commercial then a movie with the lazy way it writes its charters. We are given the barest skeletons of our protagonist that grow beyond “Katie’s an abused woman” and “Alex is a single father of two whose wife died of cancer” (I swear Sparks finds a way to crbar cancer into everything he writes). Oh and they’re both ridiculously pretty.

But what’s the twist? The more astute of you might ask. After all, experience has taught us well that no Sparks tale is complete without a pointlessly contrived twist, coldy designed to elicit the slightest bit of giving a damn about this love story. Well I’m pleased to say the films one saving grace is there is no such wham moment twist. Well there’s one but it thankfully happens in the last few minutes, isn’t nearly on the level of such classic soap opera-esque offenders “I have Alzheimer’s/I have cancer”, and It’s not going to make or break the movie.

That’s not to say there isn’t a plot device beyond “two pretty leads fall for each other”. Right out of the gate it’s established that Katie’s husband is trying to find her, and she’s wanted for questioning in Boston as a murder suspect. But this potential interesting story is regulated purely as a side-plot to the budding romance between Katie and Alex; a story the quite frankly ANYONE could see coming from a  mile away. But the movie’s  content to be the feel good, Hallmark card romance it wants to be, and grudgingly deals with it’s side-story catching up to our protagonists.

If you’re into this sort of thing, Nicholas Sparks plays all the right notes that you’ve come to expect. But if you’re not this isn’t the movie to sway you.