SAFE HAVEN a Schmaltzy Tall Tale of Second Chances

SAFE HAVEN, the new movie from the King of Schmaltz, Nicholas Sparks, is assuredly going to get dumped on by the majority of movie critics (it’s holding at 12% fresh as of this writing, about five percent lower than its Valentine’s Day rival, A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD), but honestly, I’m not sure why. It’s not Oscar contender by any means, but it’s not trying to be anything more or less than a easy-to-swallow, pretty-to-look at movie chock full of pretty people, butterflies-and-goosebumps romance and enough gasps and thrills in the whodunit department to give it a slight edge over whatever the Lifetime television channel is airing these days.

I understand tastes vary for every moviegoer, but sometimes I think my fellow film critics go out of their way to be haters. Don’t agree? Then why does SAFE HAVEN have a 12% fresh rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes.com and a 70 percent fresh rating from the audience, the normal folks who actually pay to see movies? If being a film critic means being a prickly curmudgeon, then count me out. I’ll be a film connoisseur instead, or a movie aficionado. I don’t like everything I see, but rarely am I not entertained on some level; rarely am I ever completely disappointed when I leave the theater. And SAFE HAVEN isn’t a disappointment, that’s for certain.

SAFE HAVEN refers to the tiny beachside hamlet Erin Tierney (Julianne Hough) flees to after skipping town in the middle of the night from her abusive husband whom, it appears, she left bleeding in the dining room of her Boston home. It also refers to the hunky, tan arms of one Alex Wheatley (Josh Duhamel), a recently widowed father-of-two and local convenience store owner. Erin, who now goes by the name Katie, and Alex’s paths as star-crossed lovers are assured after awkward run-ins involving yellow paint for Erin’s kitchen floor and Alex’s late-night delivery of a bike to save Erin her long walk into Southport each day for her job at Ivan’s, a local eatery. Things are going well for Erin/Katie, who has also befriended her neighbor, Jo (Cobie Smulders), and whose relationship with Alex and his kids, Josh (Noah Lomax) and Lexi (Mimi Kirkland), is blossoming with each passing moment. This is her new life and home and she is happy.

I didn’t read SAFE HAVEN. In fact, I haven’t read any of Nicholas Sparks’ books. Fans of the book will know the surprises the minute the screen comes to live and they start tossing popcorn into their mouths, but I’m not going to be a spoiler and give them away in this review. Suffice it to say, there are a few surprises that I didn’t see coming. Maybe I’m an idiot or was too caught up in the dreamy, slow-paced beachside life Erin/Katie had found, but in the end, it’s a movie and a romantic drama, so someone is going to get hurt and the past, when left unresolved, always finds a way back to haunt the person who hasn’t been fully forthright.

SAFE HAVEN is directed by Lasse Hallström, the man behind another Nicholas Sparks’ movie adaptation, DEAR JOHN, as well as WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE, THE CIDER HOUSE RULES, CHOCOLAT, and more recently, SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN. SAFE HAVEN is beautifully shot and is quick and concise clocking in at a little less than two hours. Julianne Hough (ROCK OF AGES) and Josh Duhamel (LIFE AS WE KNOW IT) deliver solid, believable performances and do what they do best, flashing their bright eyes, smiles and attractive faces in a movie that is surprisingly enjoyable. I went in thinking I’d be bored to tears or ready to gag myself, and instead came out entertained. I don’t know about you, but I’d say that’s a measure of a movie worth seeing.

GRADE: B

Check out the trailer for SAFE HAVEN below.

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