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Movie Review: Safe Haven

February 15, 2013
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If you experience an overwhelming sense of déjà vu while watching Safe Haven, it may be because you already saw the movie back when it was called Sleeping With The Enemy (1991). That film featured Julia Roberts as a wife who orchestrated a daring escape from her abusive husband and disappeared into the safe embrace of sleepy small town anonymity. Haven is remarkably similar in plot. Sure, the principal characters have been slightly changed; the villain has been changed from a fastidious rich man to an alcoholic cop, but the rest is familiar. Both women eventually find solace in the arms of charming, unassuming men only to be tracked down by their homicidal husbands.

In order to differentiate itself from its predecessor, Haven needs to offer something special, and it simply doesn’t. Everything is merely mediocre, from the story to the acting. It’s not a terrible movie, its just terribly average. Julianne Hough (known primarily for her four year stint on Dancing With the Stars) plays Katie, a woman on the run who settles in a seaside community in North Carolina. She manages to snag the lone hot man in town when she meets Alex, a kind shopkeeper who happens to be a widower with two children. Aw, isn’t that precious? It’s certainly meant to be. Alex and Katie cautiously embark on a romance and every so often Alex gets a little wistful about his late wife (who tragically died of cancer). He keeps the letters she wrote to her kids (to be opened on designated milestones) in a drawer that he visits every so often.

Naturally Katie takes to his children like a fish to water, helping the family heal from their loss. Their domestic bliss is upheaved when Katie’s ex manages to find her, and the film tries to segue into the “thriller” genre.  Trouble is, it’s not exactly thrilling, since you can easily predict the outcome. At the last minute, Haven throws a bizarre curve ball twist into the mix, causing the viewer to wonder where the heck it came from. I’m sure the intention is to get the viewer to release the waterworks, but all I could muster was a snicker.

Haven (based on a Nicholas Sparks novel) is lazy all around, particularly with the character stereotypes. Alex is sweet and sympathetic, Katie is secretive and guarded, and her ex Tierney (David Lyons) is relegated to staggering about, swilling on a water bottle filled with vodka all day. The fact that it takes so long for the police chief to catch onto the water bottle charade made me fearful for his community. He’s clearly not a very good detective if Tierney’s constant sweating and erratic behavior doesn’t tip him off that there may be a sociopath in his midst.

One bright spot is the coupling of Duhamel and Hough. They are undeniably adorable together, but they can’t overcome a tired script. It’s hard to believe that it actually took two writers (Leslie Boheme and Dana Stevens) to pen this film that would be better suited as a movie of the week on television. Poor Lasse Hallstrom. How the mighty have fallen. The Swedish director has brought us some fine films including My Life as a Dog (a personal favorite), Chocolat, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and Cider House Rules. Now he’s slumming in syrupy romance films. Let’s hope he gets back to what he does best. His talents are wasted on these romances that are dreadfully thin on plot.

Rating 2.5/5

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