After “A Walk to Remember,” “The Notebook,” “The Last Song,” “The Lucky One,” and “Dear John,” Nicholas Sparks is obviously running a campaign to become president of sappiness. His novels have inspired a number of hokey adaptations chock-full of one-dimensional archetypes and scenes ripped off from other romances. This guy loves seeing people get caught in the rain more than Michael Bay marvels at the sight of explosions. The latest picture from the novelist turned producer, “Safe Haven,” is every bit as cheesy and mushy as one would expect. It’s about as original as a Lifetime movie designed to brazenly manipulate our emotions. Maybe I’m becoming easier to manipulate, but this melodramatic cornball kept me completely invested from beginning to end.
The opening scenes find a distressed young woman played by Julianne Hough running away from home, covered in somebody else’s blood. She hops on a bus and gets off in the small town of Southport, North Carolina. This woman introduces herself to everyone as Katie and makes it abundantly clear that she wants a fresh start. Seriously, there are like a dozen lines of dialog and visual motifs regarding second chances. Although Katie isn’t looking for romance, she naturally finds love in a single father who is conveniently charming and looks like a Disney prince. Josh Duhamel plays Alex, who is having trouble raising his disgustingly adorable daughter and bratty son after losing his wife. It appears that Katie and Alex have found just the right person to move on with. The only problem is that a big, bad, alcoholic detective played by David Lyons is hot on Katie’s trail and gunning to bring her down.
Halfway through “Safe Haven” one might think that they have the whole story figured out. The film takes a couple unexpected turns however that range from inspired to completely nonsensical. “Safe Haven” requires the audience to take a leap of faith and just accept all the gaping holes in the narrative. The ending in particular will have a lot of people howling as it jumps the shark into pure fantasy territory. But even when the movie is at its most preposterous, there’s no denying that watching these twists unfold is a ton of fun.
Basically what we have here is a well-produced, feature-length soap opera. Deep down you know that it’s ridiculous, clichéd dribble that appeals to the lowest common denominator. As much as you want to just tear it to shreds though, you can’t help but be sucked in by the thoroughly entertaining drama. This is mainly because the leads have an engaging chemistry and Director Lasse Hallström never allows his audience to grow bored. That’s more than can be said about last year’s “The Vow,” which took no chances whatsoever.
Jonathan Levine’s “Warm Bodies” remains the ideal love story to see this Valentine’s Day weekend. If you’ve already seen that wonderful film however, “Safe Haven” should prove to be a satisfying outing for sentimental couples. It’s a vastly superior alternative to the other romance coming out this week, the “Twilight” wannabe known as “Beautiful Creatures.” As for all the single guys, “A Good Day to Die Hard” is probably their safest bet.
(Editor's Note: Nick Spake is a college student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for the past seven years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com.)