In my review of Beautiful Creatures, I spent considerable time assessing the importance of the setting with respect to the story and the characters. In Safe Haven, the 2013 Lasse Hallström-helmed adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks novel of the same name, the setting is also important. But whereas the setting in the former reinforced the plot, the setting in Safe Haven only buttresses the clichés.
Of course, the place is but one of many Sparks chestnuts. In his dreadfully tiresome revelations of romance, it is almost always certain that the saga will take place in some sort of sleepy resort-style settlement. There will be a beach and it will rain at least once so that the two main characters will be caught in it. And there will almost always be letters or other messages from beyond the grave.
Ballroom dancer Julianne Hough stars as Erin Tierney. We meet her as she’s leaving her abusive husband Kevin (David Lyons). Erin hops a bus and manages to get out of town, eventually settling on Southport in North Carolina. She adopts a new identity, gets a job and meets Alex (Josh Duhamel). A romance blossoms between Erin and Alex, as you’ve probably imagined.
Alex has lost his wife to cancer, but he has two adorable kids and Erin winds up being great with them. As their relationship grows, Erin’s past rushes up to haunt her again as Kevin continues to track her using his resources as a police officer. A wanted poster trumped up by the cop eventually tips Alex off to the truth and when Kevin shows up in Southport, all hell may or may not break loose.
Being Sparks’ fantasy, there are a lot of conveniences in Safe Haven. Making Kevin into a police officer gives him opportunities to push the plot forward with department assets, for one. Erin also finds a job with offensive ease, merely striding in off the beach and asking a restaurant owner (Robin Mullins) if she’s hiring. She is, Erin’s adorable, everybody wins!
These conveniences form the feeble romance of Safe Haven. Viewers must believe that the world inside Sparks’ head works in a way where goodness is remunerated with bronzed, mannerly, adequate bachelors and bad guys almost always hide vodka in water bottles. Everyone gets their respective dues.
Hallström, who directed a pile of ABBA music videos and another Sparks adaptation in Dear John, doesn’t bring any creative flavour to Safe Haven. The thing plays out like a Lifetime movie, complete with useless scenes like Erin struggling to get at her fridge that seem designed for the attachment of commercial breaks.
Safe Haven will hit with those who like their romance half-hearted and stupid. The characters are benign hard-workers, the American flags are slapped in the right places and the heavy is dispatched in predictable fashion. There are no feelings to trouble old-style fetishists and no worries that a box full of mindless scrawling from beyond the grave can’t fix. That Erin’s “before” picture looks strangely like Lindsay Lohan is purely coincidental.
The aforesaid reproaches could apply to any Sparks reworking, but Safe Haven goes the extra mile with its twist. There are many questions that arise about and surrounding the surprise, most of which begin with a stream of expletives and settle with irritation and/or confusion. When the big moment does arrive, you may want to fling yourself in the always accessible H2O.
There is a market for this, just like there’s one for Twilight and other concomitant slush. As long as these flicks do well, they’ll continue to stream into theatres. As long as people would rather invest in gazing at coppery mounds of stonework rather than engaging with real characters with dimensions, Sparks can rest assured that his fantastical rubbish will lead directly to the movies. I’m sure the bottom-feeding Thomas Kinkade of literature is thankful.