In an obvious attempt to rekindle the sparks (if you’ll pardon the pun) of THE LUCKY ONE, THE NOTEBOOK, or DEAR JOHN, romantic novelist Nicholas Sparks has given his usual recipe a somewhat darker twist in SAFE HAVEN.
Starring Julianne Hough as Katie, a gal on the run, the movie kicks off like your standard thriller as she makes her getaway. Face obscured beneath a hood, a tense chase sequence through a crowded bus station, shots of a knife and some puddles of blood, with the cops hot on her tail. But she makes it out of town – Boston, I believe – and soon winds up in the picture-postcard town of Southport, N. Carolina, where she creates a new life for herself under another name. Cautious, if not quite paranoid, Katie keeps a safe distance from her curious neighbors until she encounters handsome widower Alex (Josh Duhamel), who succeeds in getting under her protective shell.
We then follow Katie as she launches into her new life. She rents a house, gets a job witnessing at the local eatery, tentatively enters into a relationship with Alex and his daughter (Mimi Kirkland) and even makes friends, of sorts, with an enigmatic female resident. It seems that Katie has truly found a safe haven in Southport, an idyllic spot offering her the chance of a better life. But just as she is about to close the door on her turbulent past, it catches up with a vengeance. It would seem that Southport is not so safe after all…
The last act of the movie then moves into a sort of CAPE FEAR parody, when the villain of the piece – an evil figure from Katie’s past – suddenly appears to turn her new life upside down, and savagely destroy the idyll.
Directed by Lasse Hallström, (DEAR JOHN, SHIPPING NEWS, HACHIKO), the film has gathered some pretty scathing reviews since its Valentine’s Day release in the US. Abounding in clichés and chocolate-box romance, there is no real chemistry between the two leads, while all attempts at giving the plot some surprising twists and turns founder dismally: everybody sees it coming. Not quite over the opening credits, but certainly by mid-picture.
Strangely enough, the film is still entertaining after a fashion. Undemanding and easy-to-watch, no thinking required: the people are pretty, the setting delightful – shot on location in Southport – and fans of Nicholas Sparks’ brand of romantic escapism won’t be disappointed.
Which is proved by the fact that the picture has more than doubled its estimated budget of $28 million, grossing nearly $64 million at the US box office alone.
SAFE HAVEN (Safe Haven: Wie ein Licht in der Nacht), USA 2013; Running time: 115 Mins; Distributor: Senator Films (Germany); Director: Lasse Hallström; Writers: Leslie Bohem, Dana Stevens (screenplay), Nicholas Sparks (novel); Cast: Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough, David Lyons, Cobie Smulders, Mimi Kirkland; DP: Terry Stacey; Composer: Deborah Lurie; Production design: Kara Lindstrom; Release dates: Feb 14 (US)/March 7 (Germany);