Starring Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel. Written by Dana Stevens, Gage Lansky. Directed by Lasse Hallström. PG. 115 min. Opens Feb. 14.
Resembling nothing so much as a remake of Sleeping With the Enemy shot entirely at sunset, Safe Haven casts Julianne Hough as Katie, a battered wife who flees her home in Boston for sunny North Carolina. Because this is an adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks romance novel, she encounters a hunky widower (Josh Duhamel) with two adorable little kids and an ache in his big, warm heart.
If merely describing the plot of Safe Haven is embarrassing, watching it unfold onscreen is agonizing. Still, it’s hard to hold the movie’s badness against the actors: Duhamel may be a poor man’s Timothy Olyphant, but he’s got a nice earthy vibe that doesn’t feel forced, and Hough is believable as a young woman trying to outrun her past.
In another film, they might be a pair worth rooting for, but director Lasse Hallström—now fully descended into studio hackery 28 years after My Life As a Dog—drags things down. The shameless romantic elements include long beach walks and a slow dance to the sound of a rainstorm.
Playing a shambling, alcoholic cop trying to track Katie down for personal reasons, David Lyons swigs whisky out of a water bottle and spits at an American flag in between spooking senior citizens and falsifying police documents. You know, in case we weren’t sure that he was the bad guy.
There is another, even more absurd component to Safe Haven, and it’s the sort of thing that reviewers really shouldn’t spoil. Suffice it to say that sharp-eyed viewers will have their suspicions about the true identity of another major character. That the twist is so predictable doesn’t make it any less ridiculous. It raises the question: Why would a huckster as successful as Nicholas Sparks want to imitate M. Night Shyamalan?