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REVIEW

Safe Haven

By DAN LYBARGER SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

This article was published February 15, 2013 at 2:40 a.m.

— Safe Haven is the film that answers the nagging question, “How long can a movie show a couple of attractive people staring at each other affectionately without ever becoming interesting?”

Let’s say about 105 of this film’s 115 minutes.

Despite being set and filmed on the gorgeous shores of North Carolina, Safe Haven never really comes to life until the final 10 minutes, where a danger-filled conclusion winds up being more funny than threatening.

Safe Haven is adapted by Leslie Bohem and Dana Stevens from another of Nicholas Sparks’ endless series of romance novels where at least one major character usually dies in some grisly manner. This time around there’s no mystery about who’s going to meet a sad end, and a supernatural coda seems wildly out of Sparks’ comfort zone.

Because Sparks’ tropes have become so familiar, it’s easy to wonder if there is even a novel to form the basis of Safe Haven. Of course there is one, but the final film plays as if it were reworked from his notes or possibly a shopping list. Characters are sketchy and thin, and the storyline trudges along like a sleepy, wounded mule before resolving itself arbitrarily.

The movie begins with a barefoot woman in a little black dress dashing through the streets of a Boston suburb. We know the situation is dangerous because it’s raining outside, and director Lasse Hallstrom’s camera is bopping up and down as if it were tied to a pogo stick.

With a little blond hair dye and a hoodie, a woman known only as Katie (Julianne Hough) scampers through a bus depot. Even though she resembles one of Lindsay Lohan’s mug shots, she miraculously evades an obsessive cop named Tierney (David Lyons). This fellow makes Inspector Javert from Les Miserables seem forgiving.

While Tierney hounds every friend and relative Katie might have had back in Beantown (there aren’t many, but his quest moves more slowly than a line for Justin Bieber tickets), Katie tries to restart her life on a coastal village in North Carolina.

Despite being on the run from the law and working as a waitress at a busy seaside cafe, she has time to paint the floor of her house (boy, she must get some big tips), to make friends with an eccentric woman (Cobie Smulders) and to romance a single dad named Alex (Josh Duhamel).

Duhamel is at least old enough to be the father of the two children (Noah Lomax and Mimi Kirkland) in his care, but neither he nor Hough act as if they have any of the dark secrets that are supposed to be driving their characters.

For a guy who just lost his wife to cancer, Alex seems sanguine. It also doesn’t help that the leads have comely visages but no chemistry. They seem to fall into each other’s arms out of contractual obligation instead of anything resembling emotional interaction.

Because the people involved are so lifeless, all the breathtaking scenery in Safe Haven seems wasted. A series of postcards from the region would be a lot nicer than anything that has made it onscreen.

Safe Haven 67 Cast: Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, Cobie Smulders, David Lyons, Noah Lomax, Mimi Kirkland Director: Lasse Hallstrom Rating: PG-13, for thematic material involving threatening behavior, and for violence and sexuality Running time: 115 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 38 on 02/15/2013

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