Movie Review: Safe Haven (2013, Dir. Lasse Hallström)

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Nicholas Sparks is one of the most iconic writers of our time. He has written works such as The Notebook, Dear John, and The Lucky One, among multitudes of other romance novels that have been adapted for the screens of multiplexes around the country for a little longer than a decade now. As opposed to authors frequently adapted in film, like David Mitchell, his products are not famous for being good, interesting reads. Rather, they are famous for being the type of romance that keeps teenage girls up at night, the type of romance that spawns from tragedy, the type of romance that always cultivates into a moment where two people kiss in the rain whilst believing they are the only two people left on Earth.

This is the type of romance that is so remarkably cheesy one cannot help but laugh at it. Safe Haven starts off alright, seeming as if the cast and crew did have hope for the film for the first half hour or so. It was not good, per say, but it was alright. The plot follows Katie (Julianne Hough from 2011‘s decent remake of Footloose) who moves to a small town in North Carolina after being traumatized when she stabbed her husband (David Lyons who portrays Sebastian “Bass” Monroe in ABC’s Revolution).

No worries about that, it was a required stabbing. Her husband was choking her, and not the sensual type of choking. The non-sensual “Oh God, oh God, this hurts quite a bit” kind of choking that requires stabbing to fix it.

Katie decides to start anew, and she meets the super-steamy Alex Wheatley (Josh Duhamel, that guy who you always recognize from something but can never put your finger on what exactly. Have you not Googled him yet? He is that soldier guy who may or may not have been given a name in the Transformers series) who she ‘gets in’ with. After all, nothing helps heal ‘divorce-via-knife’ wounds like a widowed man with two children.

Soon enough, everything becomes dandy. The birds are chirping, the emptiness in their hearts is being filled by the metaphorical peaches and gravy of love, and (*spoiler alert*) the ex-husband is becoming a crazy, obsessed alcoholic! Wait, what? The ex is alive? Yes indeed, a police officer seen drinking ridiculous amounts of water in the first half hour, the one searching for Katie who is seemingly wanted for 1st degree murder is her ex-husband (by the way, I am just assuming the whole stabbing thing counts as a divorce in the Sparks-verse).

At the half hour mark, when it is revealed that the husband, Kevin, is the officer, it progressively becomes more and more ridiculous. The copious amounts of water he has been drinking? Vodka. Yeah. When he finds out where Katie has moved he randomly becomes psychotic. Sure, before that he seemed a little obsessed, but no different from any other film cop really getting into a particular case for whatever reason. He is not merely obsessed; if he was just obsessed, he would not drink thirty gallons of various alcoholic beverages and drive cross-country to find his ex. Apparently Kevin is not a huge fan of stab wounds.

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Anyways, as one might have been able to tell from my previous paragraph, there is a gargantuan amount of drinking, sweating, and grunting while attempting to travel to Katie’s current location. I suspect that this is a part of an extended public safety announcement created by Nicholas Sparks, saying that drinking leads to knife-divorce, drinking and driving, and meltdowns that no one notices in crowded parades. The film loses most of the sensibility it had around the halfway mark, making for a much more entertaining film. What would you do if a psychotic ex pulled out a gun on you? If you are Katie, you glance at it disinterestedly, and continue reading off the script obviously right in front of her.

Lasse Hallström, who directed it, seemed to have such a nice career ahead of him… Chocolat? Cider House Rules? Even Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was pretty good (for the first two-thirds at least). He has two Oscar nominations for Best Director even. How in the name of [insert reader’s deity of choice here] did he turn into Sparks’ go-to director for book adaptations? I assumed that after Dear John, Hallström would not adapt another Sparks book… but alas, he has, and hopefully he received most of the reported $28 million budget Safe Haven had.

Seriously, what did they spend it on? Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, and Cobie Smulders* could not possible cost two million combined. The equipment? That cost probably four million. They DEFINITELY did not spend it on the writers, Gage Lansky and Dana Stevens, who wrote some of the most clichéd and terrible I have heard in awhile (“Remember, the grass is greener!” “This is the king of the rice!” “I found you!”). Maybe Nicholas Sparks did not want his work soiled by a bad movie, so it took awhile to buy him off? Hah, yeah right.

Near the start of the film, there is a montage of Katie painting her floor yellow crosscutting with Alex building a door knob with romantic music playing in the background. Near the end of the film, there is a montage of Kevin stepping out of a car and throwing ‘water’ at a random guy and calmly going back into the car, crosscutting with Alex macking on Katie. Why nobody in the theater cried tears of either laughter or despair that somebody paid for this is beyond me. Aside from me, I mean.

Having written this all up, I am unsure whether or not to recommend Safe Haven. Did it ‘lose Cannes’? Most definitely. But should you see it? That is a completely different question. It makes up for its terribleness with a plethora of unintentional humor. What else could you see? Other options for Valentine’s Day include Warm Bodies, which I enjoyed but Madeleine did not, A Good Day to Die Hard which has not exactly gotten positive reviews, or Beautiful Creatures, which I have heard was alright. For a good film, I would recommend literally anything but this. However, if you want to watch a film that you would be able to mock for months and months, I would definitely recommend this. Plus, if you have a girlfriend or wife who likes Nicholas Sparks movie adaptations, she would probably want to watch this. Just hope she does not decide to knife-divorce you after bringing her to it.

*Yeah, Robin from How I Met Your Mother is in it! Despite some of the best acting in the film, she has without a doubt the most ridiculous moment in the film, being the twist ending. If anyone who was at my screening in Birmingham is reading this, I apologize for probably ruining this for the last five minutes, unable to contain my laughter.

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