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has two screenwriters, Leslie Bohem and Dana Stevens, adapting Sparks’ 2010 novel, but their names might as well have been replaced by the Nicholas Sparks Movie Generator 5000.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 April 16, 2014
You never know where you might meet your future bandmates. Maybe you'll meet them through a mutual friend. Maybe it'll be a chance meeting in a railway station. Maybe you'll meet them half a world away. That certainly wasn't the case with Milwaukee rock outfit Commander Tang. In fact, George Phillips didn't even have to leave his front lawn or his Washington Heights block.
Published April 15, 2014
"Sabotage" finds Arnold Schwarzenegger briefly pushing his persona in a new direction. It's not simply that the film is unexpectedly more murder mystery than action thriller; "Sabotage" is easily the meanest, most vulgar and most violent movie on Arnold's resume. Credit where credit is due for trying something new, but considering the film's brainlessly scummy ugliness, it qualifies merely as a not-quite-noble failure.
Published April 15, 2014
Even though Corey Pieper's latest single "One More Time" isn't conventional Milwaukee, it's obvious the up-and-coming pop singer has love for his home city. The musician namedrops "the 414" near the beginning of the track, and the regional callouts - along with shout outs to his Hawaiian heritage - aren't merely for show.
Published April 14, 2014
When Wake Owl first arrived in town, they were at the bottom of a three-band bill at the Cactus Club with their freshly released debut EP, "Wild Country." Since then, their crowds and popularity have only grown, moving up to a $10 Pabst Pub gig last June and now a Friday night headliner gig at Turner Hall Ballroom. And instead of a five-song EP, Cameron and company arrive with a brand new full album, "The Private World of Paradise."
Published April 13, 2014
Much like the first movie, "Rio 2" is colorful and vibrant and cracks a few good jokes here or there. It's a generally enjoyable film, albeit one that feels like several animated features audiences have seen and forgotten long before.
Published April 11, 2014
"Draft Day" is an ad, less for the NFL Draft - though it is conveniently coming up in just a month - and more for the league itself. It's a hopeful attempt to get people to mindlessly consume a sport that's becoming more and more difficult to mindlessly consume. The mildly impressive thing is that, under "Ghostbusters" helmer Ivan Reitman's eye, the light, fluffy football trifle goes down almost as easily as designed.
Published April 9, 2014
Milwaukee got its first taste of TED last year with a TEDx conference - a local, self-organized talk event, run independently but guided from afar by TED - in Harambee. And now, thanks to some ambitious students at UWM, it seems the city will get a second taste of TED.
Published April 8, 2014
A small wooden and plastic model of a stage has now graduated into a full stage, lit with lights and bright, colorful, comic book influenced projections. Superglue will no longer be necessary to keep it together. Now, the stage merely waits for its actors, an audience and a story to unfold. That story is writer David Bar Katz's "The History of Invulnerability," the story of Jerry Siegel and his famous creation: Superman.
Published April 8, 2014
Edward Albee's one-act drama "Zoo Story" is a fairly small production. After all, it features merely two actors, one set - a park - and one necessary set item, a park bench. For the upcoming staging at Marquette University, however, director Grace DeWolffe is working with much more than merely two guys and a bench. In fact, she's got $1.5 million worth of technology to bring her show to life.
Published April 7, 2014
For a band called The Living Statues, the locally based three-man rock 'n' roll outfit has done a very poor job of keeping still. After touring and gigging around the region, the time seemed right for the band to put together its first EP. Before "Knockin'" hits, however, OnMilwaukee chatted with The Living Statues about coming together, recording in Brooklyn and bouncing between the music scenes in Madison and Milwaukee.