You know it’s closing in on Valentine’s Day when you see a trailer for a Nicholas Sparks movie. There were a few things I was absolutely certain of when I sat down to watch Safe Haven. I knew there would be a woman running from a tragic past filled with secrets, a man with a good heart (and rippling pectorals) just itching to fall in love, and the probability was high someone was going to get bitch-slapped by cancer. On that front, this movie didn’t disappoint; on almost every other front it underwhelmed, under-delivered, and under-performed. If there were Viagra for movies, Safe Haven could’ve used a little blue pill or two.
Safe Haven follows a mysterious young woman as she goes on the run from a past filled with deep, dark secrety-secrets. She ends up in Sleepy Hollow minus a Headless Horseman and plus one attractive single father with a tragic past of his own. Hereafter known as Katie and Alex, these two crazy kids play a tennis match of love; he advances, she retreats and so on until their passion ignites in a mild fervor against a tree. Oh la la! Toss a dramatic wrench into the plot that gets overcome with a minimum of effort and a maximum of face-cupping and tender hugging. Then on to the finale where Katie’s past, present, and future collide in a flammable cluster fuck of moderate proportions. True love saves the day and Safe Haven ends with the most absurd, melodramatic plot “twist” of all time. Of. All. Time.
You might say I have a slight bias against Nicholas Sparks (and you’d be right). This guy compared himself to Shakespeare and (in his mind) came out on top. The Delusional Train is pulling out of Giant Asshat Station and Sparks is firmly behind the wheel. What he does, and does well, is capitalize (both literally and figuratively) on the rabid sentimentality of women. I’ll give him credit there, because he writes the same book over and over again (barring name changes and ever-so-slight detail variations) which gets made into the same movie over and over again… And no one’s called him on it. There’s either something in the water blocking the masses from figuring this shit out or Sparks is a powerful Jedi using the force for evil.
That said, I have to admit Safe Haven wasn’t as terrible as I thought it was going to be. Yes, I could feel my cycle immediately begin to sync up with the hordes of ragingly hormonal women packed into the theater, but the movie had some good things going for it. Two of those things were Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel. As I watched Katie and Alex fall in love, it was a pleasant experience to see actors with chemistry use it in all the right ways. Alex was adorably awkward around Katie and she, in turn, found herself unable to resist his bumbling charm. I also really enjoyed the mostly laughable (and frequently terrible) David Lyons as the menacing abusive husband, Kevin. His evolution from coldly calculating bastard into manic, obsessively strung-out alcoholic was campy in the extreme. If you’re dragged to this film against your will, Lyons will provide an oddly sweaty, though entertainingly cheesy, distraction.
Safe Haven, while at times diverting, suffered from a distinct lack of depth. The characters were all predictably one-dimensional and even within their arcs of progression, evolved into the next level of what was expected of them. As the film didn’t invest in rounding out this cast of “Flat Stanleys”, neither did I invest more than a modicum of effort in digesting this bland rice cake of a film. Some of the blame can be laid on the doorstep of the source material and some can be laid at the feet of Director Lasse Hallstrom (who helmed such films as Chocolat and The Cider House Rules). Safe Haven was shot in a disjointed and jarring style that made what little depth there was feel like a whole lot less. There was too much of a detour from what audiences expected with too little supporting effort to hold water in this sinking boat.
At the risk of beating an incredibly tired, dead horse… Safe Haven is predictable and lacks any sort of originality or creative spark (had to be done) that would differentiate it from any of the other sappy, lovelorn flicks that call Nicholas Sparks “Daddy”. Cracked.com hit the nail on the head with this one.
This film was basically the latest segment in the giant human centipede that is the Nicholas Sparks franchise. They say a picture is worth a thousand words so I’ll let this next one illustrate the rest of the beer for me.
The ending to this film (and the shocking twist reveal) is so absurd that even though I read the book, and knew it was coming, I hoped that someone, somewhere, somehow along the line during this filmmaking process took another look at it and went “You’re fucking kidding, right?” before immediately writing in a different ending. Nicholas Sparks has his niche formula that works for him. He’s sold bestseller after bestseller that, more often than not, gets made into a box office success. This time he tried to branch out and get “gritty” in order to pull in some male fans or at least please the ones that get taken hostage and forced into the theater by their significant others. Sparks also ventured out of his wheelhouse and added in a supernatural element that’s a sour note in an otherwise perfectly predictable (and at times enjoyable) film. This ended about as well as S&M does without a safe word.
Nicholas Sparks is to profound literature as syphilis is to good times. Every once in awhile Sparks manages to churn out a passable effort due to absolute, dumb luck. But that’s not saying much, even a blind man would trip and hit vagina if he had his dick out long enough. Safe Haven wasn’t ever going to be a great movie, but in better hands it might’ve had a chance to be good.
Take a Drink: whenever Katie gets scared, startled and/or paranoid.
Do a Shot: each time we’re treated to a nightmare or flashback.
Take a Drink: anytime the scenery or shot looks like an unreal postcard.
Take a Drink: every time Alex creeper stares at Katie/gets a raging case of the awkwards around her.
Do a Shot: whenever someone falls through the floorboards in Katie’s busted-ass kitchen.
Shotgun a Beer: to erase the memory of the most ridiculously melodramatic “twist” reveal of all time.