LEAD CAST: Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, Noah Lumax, Mimi Kirkland, David Lyons. DIRECTOR Lassie Halstrom. SCREENPLAY: Leslie Boheme and Dana Stevens, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks. CINEMATOGRAPHY: Terry Stacey. MUSIC: Deborah Lurie. GENRE: Drama/romance. RUNNING TIME: 1:55
Technical assessment: 3
Moral assessment: 2.5
CINEMA rating: A 14
MTRCB rating: PG 13
In a middle class home in Boston, a man is stabbed by a woman. There is no witness. Confused and with bloodied hands she runs away. We learn later that to help bury her past behind, she had cut her long dark hair and dyed it blonde, and then she boarded a southbound bus. She finds a low key North Carolina community where she can feel safe; there she introduces herself as Katie (Julianne Hough), landing a job as waitress at a seaside resort. She rents a cabin in the woods, certain that as a complete stranger she would then start a new life. She is soon befriended by a neighbor Jo (Cobie Smulders) and the owner of the town’s general store Alex (John Duhamel), a recent widower with a pre-teen son Josh (Noah Lumax), who has yet to get over his mother’s loss, and a perky eight-year old daughter (Mimi Kirkland). After the first alternately polite and awkward encounters, Alex and Katie start to warm up to each other. Things get sweeter—until Alex spots a bulletin at the local police station tagging Katie as a suspect in a first-degree murder case.
Message in a Bottle, The Notebook, Dear John, and Safe Haven—they have something in common. They’re all Nicholas Sparks novels, of course, and as romance stories they all give hope to people (especially women) who believe that for every woman there is a man destined to be hers alone, who will be faithful to her, love her forever and ever. It doesn’t hurt if the man is also good looking and well-mannered and tender hearted and … well, a good catch. Chick-flicks, that’s what they’re called. People in general do not see such movies to criticize, measure its merits in the technical department and see if they’re Oscar material. They draw crowds who want to nurture their romantic hopes or to get carried away by their drama. But, of course, CINEMA cannot but say a few things about how well made Safe Haven is—until the unexpected twist towards the end.
With the credible though predictable plot, the likeable characters, the bad guy we would want to protect these beautiful characters from, we are willing to close an eye to a few editing slips so we can hope without interruption that everybody would end up happily ever after—after all how can anything untoward happen in such a pretty place as that safe haven? But Safe Haven pricks its own high flying balloon, and we land on the ground with a thud, feeling we’ve been had. This uncalled for denouement to the story douses cold water on our viewing pleasure, and we’re left to wonder if the movie’s genre should now be changed from romance to horror, or maybe even psychological thriller. Worse, we come to ask: shouldn’t the heroine who has so elicited our sympathy be locked up in an asylum?
Safe Haven’s release must have been timed to fill the Valentine’s day craving for a romantic pop corn date but, really, there are far more worth-your-money ways to celebrate love with.