Film Review – Safe Haven
It may still be early in 2013, but I have already seen a candidate for the worst film of the year. Lasse Hallström’s Safe Haven (2013) is dull, sappy, and manipulative to the point of being offensive. I don’t have an issue with movies being sappy—heck, I don’t even mind if they’re manipulative in a good way. What I do mind are the ones that are dull, that have no sense of creativity or imagination, and instead settle on jerking the audience around with arbitrary plot twists in an effort to be “clever.” The screenplay (written by Leslie Bohem and Dana Stevens) is adapted from the novel by Nicholas Sparks. If you recognize the name, you’ll recognize the kind of story we have here. But even then, this feels like a parody of a Nicholas Sparks story. Perhaps it would’ve been better if it was approached as such.
Let’s start with the plot. Our main character is Katie (Julianne Hough), a young woman who finds herself in a whole mess of trouble. With recurrent flashbacks, we learn that Katie has run away from her Boston home, with hints of a dark and heinous crime on her hands. Changing her appearance and catching a bus out of town, Katie escapes to the small boating community of Southport, North Carolina. Southport is one of those places where people are overly nice and welcoming, there’s a festival almost every other week, and every alley and corner looks straight out of a postcard. I was almost expecting someone to place a newly baked apple pie on a windowsill somewhere.
With no money, no contacts, and only the clothes on her back, Katie somehow manages to befriend some of the locals and a get a job waitressing at a bustling waterfront restaurant. I guess the tips must be really good, as she apparently earns enough to afford a house of her own deep in the middle of the forest. This all happens within a day or two of Katie getting to Southport. Who knew the job market was so good there? Also, for a woman who wants to protect herself from possible danger and disappear within a community, it’s kind of a strange that she would choose a dense forest and a house that looks like it came straight out of the Evil Dead franchise.
Katie is a busy girl. Not only does she get a job and home right away, she also begins a relationship with the hunky grocery store clerk, Alex (Josh Duhamel). Does it matter that Josh Duhamel is 41 and Julianne Hough is 24? Of course not! They’re both hot, so it’s a requirement that they go together! Alex is a single father of two trying to cope with the recent death of his wife. He must be doing a really good job of forgetting, because by the time he starts having a conversation with Katie, he turns all googily-eyed with infatuation. I particularly enjoyed his “suave” approach of offering Katie a bicycle to help her around town. Right, buddy, as if giving her a bike will give him access to the goods…oh wait, apparently it does in this movie. Anyway, Katie and Alex develop a bland and boring romance, chock full of heart-warming quotes like:
“I’ve kept my head down. But today, with you, is the first day I’ve looked up.”
Or even better:
“There’s no safer place for you than here with me.”
Excuse me while I yak.
Obviously, things can’t stay good forever for our two young/middle-aged lovebirds. Hot on Katie’s trail is Boston detective Kevin Tierney (David Lyons). Tierney was assigned to the case, and makes it his sole mission to track Katie down and bring her to justice. How exactly does he do this? By constantly binge-drinking and hanging out at Katie’s home (where the crime took place). How exactly did Tierney make it up the ranks to become a detective? He’s so inept that I wondered how he was able to get anything done. His investigation involves walking around to the neighbors, flashing his badge, and asking if they know or have seen Katie. There is a big plot hole right here, but I’ll refrain from pointing it out as it gives away a major spoiler.
At the end of the day, Safe Haven lacks any confidence to be something different. Its romance is cliché, characters unremarkable, and contains plot holes wide enough to drive a truck through. It doesn’t have the courage to follow through on its original set-up. I was actually intrigued with how some characters have a complicated and dark past, and how that might play a part with their current relationships. But alas, the filmmakers settled on messing with our preconceived notions, allowing the good guys to be the good guys and the bad guys to be the bad guys. And worst of all is the final closing plot twist. This development makes absolutely no sense, and it doesn’t add to anything except catching the audience off-guard—the final nail to an eye-rollingly corny movie.
Final Grade: D