By Laurie Coker

Rating: C-

My preference in reading lies in mystery novels and not sappy, heart-wrenching, tortured romance, like those written by Nicholas Sparks, so his latest film, with which he is highly involved, Safe Haven, didn’t have me rushing to the screening. In fairness, I have enjoyed some of his films in the past, but unfortunately, in spite of its underlying mystery aspect, I found director Lasse Hallström’s telling lackluster and for me, painfully predictable.

Sparks is known for darker themed romance, where the couple struggles beyond the typical – defying death, ex-lovers, war and old age. For Katie (Julianne Hough) everything is not roses and butterflies. The film opens with her rushing from a house, to her neighbors, covered in blood and carrying a knife. In a series of brief flashes, we get tidbits of what happened, but nothing is totally clear (except to me and anyone with even the tiniest inkling of deductive reasoning) until the film plays out. Kate, with a determined policeman (David Lyons) in hot pursuit, boards a bus to Atlanta and ends up in a sleepy coastal town in North Carolina, where she meets widower Alex (Josh Duhamel) and his two adorable kids, Josh and Lexie (Noah Lomax and Mimi Kirkland).  At first, because of her past, she rejects any “awe-shucks” advances from Alex, but with the encouragement of her new gal pal, Jo (Cobi Smulders), she finally gives in a. Soon, however, as is necessary, her dark past returns to cause turmoil in her new relationship.

Unlike her brother, Hough managed to dance her way into, first country music and then on to the big screen and with good reason. The girl has talent and beauty – that ever appealing girl-next-door appeal. She and Duhamel both play their parts perfectly, providing the down-home adorable personas with ease. They make a handsome, likable pair sweet – like too much sugar – and his kids, especially Kirkland’s Lexie are equally syrupy charming. Josh tries to dislike Katie, in honor of his dead mother, but even he succumbs to Katie’s charm.

Because, I knew what would happen, every step of the way, I became bored, and it took all my strength not to share my theories with by guest, who delighted in the story and its adorable cast. She watched wholly engaged, giddy about the love story and biting her nails at the mystery. Ugh!  I did enjoy the cast, a great deal actually, but Sparks and his stories just don’t mean much to me. Maybe I am jaded. My friend, in her thirties, is more in the age demographic, but then, I am female and am not totally turned off of the idea of true love. It is just that the PG-13 rated Safe Haven isn’t really a new story – neither in the genre of love story nor in the world of mystery.

Perhaps it is Hallström’s pacing that produces many of the film’s issues, because, even when he tosses in his plots big twists (again not surprising to me), the excitement just isn’t there. I wish I had better things to say since the cast deserves more and I know fans of Sparks will flock to the theater, especially since it opens on Valentine’s Day, but I simply don’t. Wait! The film is beautiful and I am not just talking about Hough in a bikini and Duhamel shirtless, the small town imagery pleases, making me want to move to such a warm, laid-back and unassuming place.

As an after meal diversion for Valentine’s Day date night, men will hate it, but within a certain age range, woman might swoon over it – and isn’t that sort of the point of a film like Safe Haven? I am placing a C- in my grade book. My friend wouldn’t like me giving it any lower.




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