Based on the Nicholas Sparks novel, "Safe Haven" combines the repetitive elements of beach, bro and babe found in countless Sparks' romance movies.
"Safe Haven" spotlights the suspenseful and affirming story of a young woman's difficult journey to love again. Director Lasse Hallström delivers a predictable and melodramatic movie that reveals a plot twist at the end, making for an embarrassing Sparks adaptation.
Julianne Hough plays the part of Erin Tierney, the female protagonist trying to escape her dark past by starting afresh in small-town Southport, N.C.
In the beginning, Erin is reluctant to join the tightly bound community. She buys a house deep in the woods and adopts the identity of "Katie Feldman."
Almost instantly, Erin makes her first acquaintance with nosy neighbor Jo (Cobie Smulders). The pair share a bond of mysterious sadness throughout the movie.
Hot on her trail is Officer Tierney (David Lyons), Erin's abusive, psychotic husband. Tierney carries a water bottle full of vodka at all times, breaks into old ladies' houses, and has a constant sheen of sweat.
It's no surprise that Erin is running from this crazed man. It doesn't help that Tierney has distributed a fake statewide document saying Erin is wanted for murder. Though her crazy husband hopes his stalking will result in happily ever after, he drives her right into the arms of another man instead.
The romance blossoms when Erin arrives in Southport and buys a coffee from Alex (Josh Duhamel), a widowed store owner. The two predictably get caught in a whirlwind of romance from this point on, starting with Alex giving Erin a bicycle and ending in love. Their love story is rather mellow-probably because neither have much of a personality.
"Safe Haven" mirrors Sparks' biggest hit, "The Notebook." The audience gets a romantic canoe ride, the sudden rainstorm, a goofy first dance and several shots of the heroine being hoisted in the air.
However, it's missing the angry passion that made "The Notebook" so successful. Erin and Alex aren't violently, fiercely in love.
Once Alex learns that Erin is wanted for murder, he's about as angry as someone gets when they get a parking ticket. He pleads with her to stay and she does, and it appears that everything is peachy after all.
"Safe Haven" strays from typical Sparks' romance movies in that it has a more realistic element to it. The heroine doesn't traipse around in expensive high heels and gaudy jewelry. Instead, Southport is a working community filled with realistic country characters.
Unfortunately, the last five minutes of "Safe Haven" slaps the realistic romance right out of the movie. Sparks delivers a nutty twist that's a bit out there, even for him.
After Katie and Alex share their last big kiss, he gives her a note from his dead wife, written before she died of cancer. It's then that she realizes her clingy neighbor Jo is actually the ghost of Alex's dead wife.
It gets better. As expected, she adores Katie and totally supports her love shared with Alex. In flashbacks, Katie realizes that all her walks in the woods with Jo were really just her walking along, chatting with herself.
Does this mean Katie is insane, or did Jo seek Katie out when she arrived in town because she knew Katie was destined for Alex?
It's hard to tell, but one thing is sure: "Safe Haven" is a lackluster adaptation of Sparks' novel combined with certain cheesy scenes featured in "The Notebook."
In one word, "Safe Haven" may be described as disappointing.