By Mark Saldana 

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

Valentine’s Day has arrived. Couples after a romantic dinner often want to cuddle to a film on this special day celebrating love.  Depending on one’s taste in movies, the options this week consist of teenage wiccan romance in Beautiful Creatures, intense action and violence in A Good Day to Die Hard, and the latest Nicholas Spark’s adaptation Safe Haven.  Sparks, for the uninitiated, penned the novels-turned-films The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, Dear John, and a few others.  While The Notebook is quite the heartbreaker of a love story, most of the other films suffer from soap opera clichés and tepid romance.  So it certainly is refreshing to see a film with Nicholas Sparks in the writing credits that actually exceeded my expectations.  Even though the drama gets a bit banal, the love story does work really well, and the conclusion delivers in a huge way.

Katie (Julianne Hough) arrives in Southport hoping to escape her troubled past.  The quiet sleepy town is just what she needs. Hoping to keep a low profile, things begin to change when she befriends Alex (Josh Duhamel), a local grocery store owner. After overcoming an awkward introduction, the two fall for each other.  However, Katie’s past troubles are far from over and eventually catch-up with her in Southport.

Screenwriters Leslie Bohem and Dana Stevens adapt Sparks’ novel and do some  pleasing work with the love story aspect of the movie.  Unfortunately, when it comes to the drama and conflict, the film easily delves into silly soap opera territory.  The movie begins to feel much like watching a Lifetime television movie.  Once the movie gets past this annoying part of the story, the film concludes on a truly amazing and magical note.  Acclaimed director Lasse Hallström does some solid work here despite the story issues. The two lead actors share a beautiful and credible chemistry on the screen.

Josh Duhamel displays more range than I’ve ever seen from him.  In a role which requires grief, awkward adoration, in addition to parental love and strength, the man nails it.  Julianne Hough also offers her best performance so far as the desperate and distraught Katie who’d rather keep to herself than fall for a man and his children.  David Lyons is effective as Tierney, a police detective obsessed with finding Katie, but his part of the story is where this film gets prosaic. Finally, a special kudos should be extended to child actress Mimi Kirkland who not only is adorable as Alex’s daughter Lexie, but truly is a talent to behold.

For the guys being dragged to this movie on Valentine’s Day or afterward, this movie actually is watchable, enjoyable, and not quite as irritatingly sappy as some of the other Sparks adaptations.  The soap opera factor exists, but the lovely romance and incredible ending make up for it.

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