‘Safe Haven’ plays it safe… but that’s not necessarily a bad thing

Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough seek refuge from a storm in 'Safe Haven'
Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough seek refuge from a storm in ‘Safe Haven’

Nicholas Sparks has published 16 novels thus far.  With the release of Safe Haven, half of them have been made into films.  But this one does something the others did not.  Oh, it has the usual schmaltz, romance, and major character in jeopardy.  But this time, the person in jeopardy isn’t being endangered by disease, war, or some other ‘thing’.  “Katie” (Julianne Hough) is being threatened by someone.

RELATED: ‘Safe Haven’ is the latest in a long line of Nicholas Sparks books to become films

We see her fleeing aboard a bus that comes to a stop in the small town of Southport in South Carolina. It’s a beautiful seaside small town and she decides to get off the bus and stay awhile.  She meets “Alex” (Duhamel), the owner of the local convenience store where many bus passengers stop in.  She also looks for and finds work and a place to rent with ease.  Her rented house is fairly remote, although there is one neighbor, a woman named “Jo” (Cobie Smulders).  Katie isn’t interested in making friends, but she eventually forms a friendship with Jo.  They often walk to and from town together.

Alex is a widower whose wife died of a disease some years earlier.  He has two children, “Josh” (Lomax) and “Lexie” (Kirkland).  Lexie is immediately enamored of Katie and the feeling is mutual.  Katie also has no interest in getting close to Alex but the best laid plans of women on the run aft agley.

Julianne Hough is a woman in danger in 'Safe Haven'
Julianne Hough is a woman in danger in ‘Safe Haven’

Meanwhile, Boston PD detective “Kevin Tierney” (Lyons) is searching desperately for Katie. He barely missed nabbing her at the bus depot when she left and now he’s issued a notice to all police departments that the woman who is pictured on his notice is wanted for murder.  It’s a pretty recognizable photograph of Katie.

RELATED: Lasse Hallstrom brings Nicholas Sparks’ ‘Safe Haven’ to the big screen

Why Katie is running is eventually explained.  When it becomes clear that Detective Tierney is closing in, Katie is ready to flee.  She plans to run even though the predictable has come to pass and she is now romantically involved with Alex.  Of course he wants her to stay and promises to protect her.

Julianne Hough has only made three features with her in a credited role prior to Safe Haven and her performances before this weren’t anything to write home about.  However, she’s stepped up her game a bit and shows promise here.  She’s not anywhere near Oscar caliber, but is definitely headed in the proper direction.  Josh Duhamel is easy on the eyes of women and has better acting chops than he displays in this film.  Their chemistry is not great but it isn’t bad either.  Cobie Smulders steals nearly every moment she is in.  Southport’s is such a gorgeous setting, it makes this a much more watchable movie.

This is the second collaboration of director Hallstrom and author Sparks and while it not the best work of either, it is definitely good and worth seeing.  Especially for Valentine’s Day or with a date.

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