Apparently Nicholas Sparks isn’t tired yet of getting his story ideas from the same shallow, melodramatic well.
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the latest big-screen adaptation of a book by the prolific romance novelist is Safe Haven, another slick and calculated beachfront love story that should please Sparks’ legions of indiscriminate fans while making even casual cynics cringe.
All of the Sparks staples are in place, from the idyllic Southern seaside setting, to a main character trying to escape a troubled past, to a passionate centerpiece kiss in silhouette.
The relationship in question concerns two people who are both looking for fresh starts. Katie (Julianne Hough) is a young woman who flees her relationship with an abusive husband and winds up in the village of Southport, N.C., where she encounters Alex (Josh Duhamel), a young widower trying to raise two children while running a local store.
As their romance deepens, Katie becomes friendly with the locals — including a neighbor (Cobie Smulders) who offers advice — without revealing too much about her past, until her secrets threaten to catch up to her and ruin Alex’s life in the process.
The film is the second Sparks adaptation for Oscar-nominated director Lasse Hallstrom (Dear John), and he brings a polished visual approach to enhance the picturesque locales.
The script was adapted by veteran screenwriters Leslie Bohem (Dante’s Peak) and Dana Stevens (For Love of the Game), but there’s not much they can do to elevate the lackluster material, with its silly twists and hollow emotional core.
Likewise the two lead actors, who manage an appealing chemistry while acclaimed dancer Hough (Footloose) shows that she’s more than just a pretty face with her first dramatic lead role. Although it’s worth wondering how the actors can keep a straight face through an absurd final act that goes completely off the rails.
Shamelessly predictable yet mostly innocuous, Safe Haven places an emphasis on cuteness and offers a shallow treatment of more serious issues. Then again, many of those in the audience (not counting companions dragged against their will) know what they’re going to get, and they don’t care.
Rated PG-13, 115 minutes.