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Movies Review

'Safe Haven' review: Nicholas Sparks romance will make your heart sink

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Released on Friday, Mar 1 2013

Director: Lasse Hallström; Screenwriters: Leslie Bohem, Dana Stevens; Starring: Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough, Cobie Smulders, David Lyons; Running time: 115 mins; Certificate: 12A


What starts out as a pleasingly old-fashioned romance eventually spirals into realms so far off the planet it would make Professor Brian Cox blow a fuse. Josh Duhamel smiles his way through the chaos as a nice guy widower living in a sleepy coastal town whose eyes brighten at the sight of a new arrival - even though she's played by the curiously charmless Julianne Hough.

The young starlet from Rock of Ages and Footloose has a bit of a hard edge, which is presumably why director Lasse Hallström (Chocolat) was drawn to her for the part of Katie. She blows into town like a storm after a briefly glimpsed scuffle in Boston that leaves her clothes stained with blood. At first, the sunnier climes of North Carolina do little to lighten her mood.

That doesn't stop local shopkeeper Alex (Duhamel) from trying to cheer her up. He sells her yellow paint for her kitchen floor and gives her a bicycle so that she can get back and forth between the shop and her lonely hovel in the forest. Still, she's a tough nut to crack, but we get a hint that Katie isn't all bad as she forms a bond with his cute-as-a-button daughter (Mimi Kirkland).

Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel in 'Safe Haven'


A hunky widower, his cute kid, some sunny weather and a dash of Southern hospitality; all the necessary clichés are in place for what could be a conventional but quite enjoyable romance. But there are at least two other films, from very different genres, that are playing gooseberry in the middle of this slow-burning love affair. Things get decidedly sticky, and not in a good way.

Boston detective Tierney (TV regular David Lyons) is gradually closing in on Katie and he's the kind of cranky maverick cop who won't be swayed from the task by small matters such as lines of jurisdiction. Then there's Jo (Cobie Smulders), Katie's closest neighbour who becomes her closest friend, but she won't talk about her past either, so the relationship feels superficial.

Later on, too many secrets are unveiled that completely alter the tangent of the story and the more that comes to light, the less interesting and frankly, the more loony it becomes. Katie is let off for bad behaviour on a technicality and worse than that, Hallstrom (working from the novel by The Notebook author Nicholas Sparks) suggests Katie has been, almost literally, touched by God.

The initial air of mystery dissipates like a fart in a lift that everyone should be too embarrassed to acknowledge. Duhamel glosses over some of the nonsense with down-to-earth charm, but Alex is a pity figure, mostly because he forgives too easily and because he might have done better - maybe getting together with Kate Hudson in a love story that was just mediocre instead of totally moronic.

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