If there’s one best-selling author working at the moment that has proved to have no range whatsoever, it’s Nicholas Sparks. All his stories are the same. Two people with no character flaws meet, they fall in love (regardless of the chemistry they actually have), something happens to separate them in which they sit around moping for a while, then meet up again, make-up, and everything is great, love conquers all, blah blah blah. There are sometimes elements thrown in there to change it, but the framework is always the same. Safe Haven is mixing it up a bit by adding in some thriller elements, in that it’s director Lasse Hallstrom remembers its supposed to have some thriller elements and cuts back to them occasionally. Safe Haven is as boring and dull as it is really quite hilarious.
The film opens with our main character, Erin (Julianne Hough) running away from a police officer and getting on a coach. Bear in mind we have no context for this scene and don’t get any until about half way through, so we are left completely in the dark until the film remembers we need some kind of explanation. Anyway, we see her getting off in the stereotypical small country town of Southport, North Carolina. She buys a run down cabin in the woods (no Book of the Dead, unfortunately) and makes friends with her neighbour Jo (Cobie Smulders) and eventually meets Alex (Josh Duhamel), our burly male love-interest. It doesn’t help that the man looks about 40, and she looks about 19. She learns that his wife died of cancer and he’s been taking care of his two kids all by himself, and by this point I’ve lost the will to live just by writing about it.
If you’re wondering what happened to that whole running-from-the-police thing, it only really comes into play in the last half of the second act. Like I said before, it will occasionally flick back to the police guy looking serious at a computer screen, but what carries the film is the romance between Alex and Erin (or Katie, as she calls herself). This is where the film fails the most. I mean, it fails everywhere, but this is where it fails in the most cringe-worthy way. The actors have zero chemistry, and the horribly stilted dialogue means the characters come off as simply friendly with each other. The kind of person you’d say hi to on the street, but that’s it. When they have their big kiss scene eventually, it comes across as kind of sporadic.
Then the ending happens. This is one of the most lazy and thoughtless The Sixth Sense rip-offs I’ve ever seen. The film has almost now become known for its terrible twist ending, as every review I’ve read has mentioned it. It comes out of nowhere in the last five minutes and makes everything established and developed (the little there is) come tumbling down on the film’s head. In the preview screening I went to, people actually started laughing at the screen, including me. It’s so ludicrous it drags the film from predictable schmaltz-fest into hilarious train wreck.
Safe Haven is a perfect Nicholas Sparks adaptation. Granted, I was probably not the intended audience for this film, but I still believe that being for teenage girls does not excuse a lack of effort. Mean Girls, Clueless, Now Is Good. These are all films made for the teenage girl demographic and work, because they’re well directed, well written, and have engaging stories. Safe Haven fails in every way it could do, but I give it points for being unintentionally hilarious at times. Still, that isn’t worth the price of admission, so give this a miss.