Safe Haven is not a movie for my demographic. Therefore, I totally have the right to make fun of it. In addition to that, I will try my best to give a professional review of it — but no promises. Also, there will be spoilers so cover your eyes and wax your upper lip cause here we go.
First off, this movie is basically Sleeping With the Enemy from 1991, but intolerable. Let me explain. SWTEis the Joseph Ruben thriller based on the novel by Nancy Price about a woman (played by Julia Roberts in her mainstream cinematic prime) who escapes a relationship with her abusive husband (Patrick Bergin). She ends up in a quaint town, takes a new identity, and falls for a charming gentleman that treats her right (in this case it’s Kevin Anderson). Safe Haven is the Lasse Hallström thriller based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks about a woman (played by Julianne Hough in her mainstream cinematic prime) who escapes a relationship with her abusive husband (I’ll spoil that bit for you later). She ends up in a quaint town, takes a new identity and falls for a charming gentleman that treats her right (in this case, it’s Josh Duhamel). The difference? Safe Haven has an ending (I’ll spoil that bit for you later, too) that made me stomp out of the theater leaving a trail of vomit and cursing Nicholas Sparks for feeding us this romantic bullcorn.
First and foremost, I must address the fact that Lasse Hallström directed this movie. In fact, this is the second Sparks bullcorn he has directed (the first being Dear John). He also directed such greatness as Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Any time I start to get mad at his connection with this movie, I just pop in some good ol’ Gilbert Grape to remind myself that I love me some Lasse. I will not hold this against him. He probably owes someone a favor or something — but that doesn’t mean that I liked this movie. As a licensed cynic, it is my civic duty to loathe this movie more than I need to.
The main problem that I have with this movie is the over-romanticized malarky that they shove down our throats. Safe Haven is ultimately a modernized Harlequin Romance novel — and that goes for every single Nicholas Sparks story. It’s like horse estrogen-injected literary porn. I understand that many people need to escape into this fantasy world of kissing in the rain, but there’s a time and place for that. It’s called Lifetime TV. As for the actors, I like them. Really like them. I think Julianne Hough is America’s new sweetheart and Josh Duhamel comes from a planet of ridiculously unnatural pretty people. Unfortunately, I just didn’t like the movie because it was just too much cheese. I could not handle all of the romance that didn’t involve intercourse or making out (the two are just so damn hot together!). I am fine with romantic cheese. In fact, I welcome it. But this was bubbling over with cheese. So much that it gave me gas.
True to Sparks panache, there are some scenes that did not need to be as long as they were — or even exist at all. For instance, do we really need to see Katie (Hough) and Alex (Duhamel) discuss paint colors? How crucial is that for their characters and the story? Will her crazy husband find her if she paints the floor of her decrepit Evil Dead cabin the wrong color? Not really. The movie could have easily been 90 minutes because of bloated scenes.
Then there is the issue of Katie’s crazy, abusive husband who we are introduced to in the very beginning of the movie — except we don’t know it. (SPOILER ALERT) Yup, the aggressively crazy, alcoholic cop who is obsessively searching for Katie turns out to be (*gasp*) HER HUSBAND. OK. I do have to admit, I was a tiny bit shocked at this part. I didn’t see this coming because I was too busy complaining about how much I wanted Katie and Alex to stop talking about paint. David Lyons (yes, the guy who was The Cape) played the resident alcoholic villain and I have to say, he was poppin’. From the beginning of the movie, his character is on a steady decline that I enjoyed thoroughly. It’s over-the-top, sweaty, bloodshot, emotionally volatile, and simply bat-shit crazy. Perhaps I like him because he was ruining all of the happiness of characters I didn’t care for.
Finally, there is the “clever” twist that I just couldn’t get behind: THE DEAD WIFE. No Nicholas Sparks movie would be complete without a death of a beloved character. In this case, the beloved character was dead the whole time. The corpse is Alex’s late wife — but let me back up. When Katie first moves to this small seaside town worthy of Massengill commercial, she runs into her “neighbor” Jo (Cobie Smulders) who, from the get go, is suspicious of something. (ANOTHER SPOILER AHEAD) My initial reaction: lesbian. She was reminiscent of a character by the same name from Facts of Life. She wears worker boots with short shorts. She’s always desperately wanting to be around Katie. She’s always looking at Katie with a masculine energy that reads, “I wanna get with you” — but alas. She is not a lesbian. SHE IS THE DEAD WIFE. She “haunts” Katie this whole time. Guiding her and giving her the “OK” to boink her husband. I could have done without all of this Sixth Sense nonsense. It is just ridiculous and was an extra thing for me to make fun of.
Safe Haven shares all the essential story elements of its sister movies on Lifetime and, of course, Sleeping With the Enemy. Unfortunately, it didn’t have the exciting build up of “my abusive husband is gonna get me” tension that makes these movies worthwhile. It all happens in the final 20 minutes of the movie and by that time, I was totally over it. The cheesy romance, gratuitous canoe rides, bloated scenes, “surprising” twists, ghosts with lesbian tendencies, sweaty alcoholic husbands, feminine hygiene towns, and too-hot-for-their-own-good movie stars all amount to a pile of Nicholas Sparks fodder for hopeless romantics to binge on. I prefer to purge.
Safe Have opens in theaters on Thursday.