"Safe Haven" — An affirming and suspenseful story about a young woman's struggle to find love again after she arrives in a small North Carolina town. Her reluctance to join the tight-knit community raises questions about her past. Slowly, she begins putting down roots, and gains the courage to start a relationship with Alex, a widowed store owner with two young children. But dark secrets intrude on her new life with such terror that she is forced to rediscover the meaning of sacrifice and rely on the power of love in this deeply moving romantic thriller.
RATING: PG-13 LENGTH: 115 mins. GENRE: Romance, Drama DIRECTOR: Lasse Hallström CAST: Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough, David Lyons, Cobie Smulders WEBSITE: Facebook.com/SafeHavenMovie
Entering the world of any Nicholas Sparks movie requires not only a solid gag reflex, but a complete abandonment of any sense of the actual world we live in. Yes, it's completely believable that two cookie-cutter attractive people would find each other, bur their glossy, white-washed existence where handwritten letters trump text messages, rowboats are a legitimate mode of transportation, and major life issues are conveniently solved, is as dated as it is utterly ridiculous.
Still, even with the awareness that these are nothing more than implausible, overly sentimental, and more often times than not, downright boring love affairs, some of them have made for well-executed guilty pleasure tearjerkers. (See: The Notebook. Which, if you have ABC Family, you have three times this week).
Safe Haven, the latest big screen adaptation in the ever-churning Sparks wheelhouse, is not one of those movies. The M.O. is the same as all the others that have come before it: two very clean cut, J. Crew catalogue models (this time it's Josh Duhamel as Alex and Julianne Hough as Katie) make eyes at each other in a sleepy bay town, discover they both have tragic pasts (he, a widower learning to heal and raise his children, and she, an abused wife on the run) and, despite the circumstances and a lot of conveniently timed rainstorms, learn to love again.
The big, glaring problem with Safe Haven, however - which boasts an impressive director (Lasse Hallström) and a few lively performances (Duhamel is charming in spite of the schlocky material) - is that it's filled with big, glaring plot holes. Riddled with illogic revolving around Katie's alcoholic, abusive husband (played by David Lyons) who's hot on her tail and the mysterious, kindly neighbor named Jo (Cobie Smulders) she befriends, Safe Haven plays like Sleeping With the Enemy-lite for most of its running time.
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That is, until the movie's beyond-absurd third act twist, which turns out to be both unintentionally hilarious and completely unnerving. Some moviegoers will, no doubt, be willing to buy that a woman could roll into a new town with nothing but the clothes on her back, get a job, buy a house, make a new best friend, frolic on the beach, and fall in love with a perfect-in-every-way widowed single dad in record time. But not even the most hopelessly romantic sap would find Katie and Alex's happy ending as anything other than completely ludicrous and a little bit disturbing.