An astute audience member paying attention during the opening credits of "Safe Haven" will notice the film is the first product from Nicholas Sparks Productions. Yes, it seems Sparks has turned his brand of weepy predictable romantic drama into a certified business, and that’s exactly what "Safe Haven" feels like: business.
The Valentine’s Day drama plays like the result of a soulless Nicholas Sparks machine that simply plugged in the typical clichés and churned out a movie, personality be damned.
"Safe Haven" technically has two screenwriters, Leslie Bohem and Dana Stevens, adapting Sparks’ 2010 novel, but their names might as well have been replaced by the Nicholas Sparks Movie Generator 5000. Loading name … Katie, played by Julianne Hough, is a young woman escaping an abusive relationship with (insert corrupt ex-husband or boyfriend character, who could only be more cartoonishly villainous if he set a box of puppies on fire).
Her journey brings her to – you guessed it – a scenic, beachside boating town perfect for starting her life over and meaningful stares into the distance. She gets a job at the local diner and meets (loading handsome, big-hearted romantic lead with kids – one relentlessly mopey, the other adorable – and a dead wife…) Alex, played by Josh Duhamel.
After some awkward courting and humorously trite advice (one character – played by Cobie Smulders – says, "life is full of second chances" and then assumably gags on the hokey line’s saccharine gooeyness), the two fall in love. Plug in romantic rain storm. Unfortunately, Katie’s dark secret from her past comes to light just as she and Alex are beginning to truly trust one another. Oh, the tragically predictable irony.
They get in a fight that could be easily solved with an honest conversation, but the Nicholas Sparks Movie Generator, a machine unable to understand genuine human emotion and interactions, insists that it be wrapped up with a sequence in which Alex must race the clock to stop Katie from hopping on a boat and leaving town forever. Bonus cliché points for having Alex get caught in traffic and having to run to her in romantic desperation.
The love-struck couple falls back in love, just in time for her hilariously sinister ex – played by Cole Hauser lookalike David Lyons – to stumble drunkenly into town for the overheated dramatic climax. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to note that the Nicholas Sparks Movie Generator 5000 isn’t programmed to write un-romantic endings.
So yeah, "Safe Haven" is pretty much every romance movie cliché and predictable plot point wrapped up in a two-hour timeframe. The surprise comes in how bland and lifeless the finished product is.
Director Lasse Hallstrom, continuing his slide from Oscar-nominated director to helming bland weepy romances (he also directed Sparks’ "Dear John"), seems to be just as bored with the material as the audience. Despite the pretty North Carolina locations, it’s sleepily filmed, clumsily paced and sloppily edited.
There’s no Gosling or McAdams to save the day, either. Hough and Duhamel may be attractive leads, but they have no chemistry together, and the unnatural dialogue does them no favors.
"Safe Haven" would be simply guilty of being criminally flavorless if so many elements didn’t combine together to inspire one continuous annoyed eye-roll. It’s a movie that aims to be as bland and safe as vanilla, yet somehow still messed up the flavor.
The main culprit is the overheated, soapy ex-husband detective subplot intertwined with the damp romance, which only becomes more laughably absurd as he becomes more obsessed with finding Katie and his next bottle of booze. He’s not a threat; he’s an eye-rolling cartoon, breaking laws, brooding with excessive angst and drinking enough that you begin to wonder if the sweat stain growing on his shirt is just pure vodka.
By the time "Safe Haven" reached its climactic battle – complete with fireworks and raging fire – and its asinine twist ending, my eyes had rolled so much, they rolled all the way around in their sockets, and I was looking at the inside of my skull. I easily preferred that to the dreck on the screen.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published May 28, 2015
On the eve of the release of their second album, "Fragments," OnMilwaukee.com sat down with Karen Muehlbauer, Ignacio Catral and Keith Bauer of the Milwaukee-based indie rock band The Violet Hour to chat about their significant change in musical direction, the new album, their affinity for ping pong and how one of them is secretly a Sarah McLachlan fan.
Published May 26, 2015
The origins of the Spare Change Trio probably sound like something you've heard a variation of before. What you may not have heard before in the Milwaukee music scene, however, is something quite like the Spare Change Trio's sound - a mix of jam-happy reggae roots rock with a dash of something from Down Under: a didgeridoo.
Published May 25, 2015
Comedy sequels typically serve as an invitation for disappointment. There are a few exceptions (see: the meta mayhem of last summer's "22 Jump Street"), and thankfully the minorly flawed but majorly funny "Pitch Perfect 2" slides in amongst them.
Published May 25, 2015
The Blake Lively romantic drama "The Age of Adaline" feels like a fairy tale - an incredibly pretty one at that - but told like a lab report.
Published May 14, 2015
The new Sundance-approved Jack Black high school reunion comedy "The D Train" is a darkly oddball mix of laughs and drama simultaneously amusing and cringe-inducingly awkward. So ... pretty much just like my high school days all over again.
Published May 14, 2015
Located in Hales Corners, the W. Ben Hunt Cabin is much more than simply an old rustic locale. It's a lived-in museum to an era long gone, as well as a tribute to an incredible man who predicted the future, turned his hobby into history and did his best to keep some of our nation's earliest traditions from disappearing and merely collecting dust in the past.
Published May 11, 2015
Monday evening, Ald. Tony Zielinski held a community meeting in order to address the recent rumors and speculation concerning the potential sale of At Random - in addition to five other buildings held by the same owner - and to take community input concerning the neighborhood bar.
Published May 10, 2015
"Hot Pursuit" isn't a particularly strong film, and admittedly there's not much of a rousing defense to be made for it (get that pull quote ready for the ad campaign!). But there is one element - and a fairly significant one at that - in the movie's corner: Reese Witherspoon. I will go to bat for her delightfully bright eyed performance here, one that serves as just enough of a sparkplug to almost single-handedly get this tired comedic vehicle where it's going.
Published May 6, 2015
2003's "Big Fish" is a sweet and delightful - and not just because it's one of the few times this side of the millennium you could honestly say, "I enjoyed a Tim Burton movie." Now First Stage will attempt to bring Burton's signature oddball visuals and "Big Fish" author Daniel Wallace's imagination-rich book to live, musical life on stage. In charge is director Jeff Whiting, who chatted with us about bringing tall tales - and taller giants - to life.
Published May 5, 2015
With new headliner and schedule announcements popping up seemingly everyday, the sunny sonic spectacle that is the Big Gig is finally beginning to take shape. But while most of the work takes place in closed-door meetings and over negotiation-heavy phone calls, a part of the Summerfest process has also been taking place on a stage right out in the open, featuring local bands hoping to win in front of a crowd of fans hoping to be won over.