"It feels like Nicholas Sparks, until it suddenly doesn't," Sparks himself says of his latest novel-into-film project. That's some understatement.
Opens Thurs., Feb. 14 at Pacific Place and other theaters. Rated PG-13. 115 minutes.
Safe Haven boasts all the handsome characters and delicate romance of The Notebook or Dear John, but here Sparks adds an unexpected element of suspense to create a tense—at times uncomfortably so—romantic thriller. (Veteran Lasse Hallström directs.) Women expecting a tender love story for their Valentine's Day date night may be surprised at how sinister the writer can get. Dudes dragged along against their will, on the other hand, may be thankful for the suspenseful twist and uncharacteristic violence.
Mysterious young Katie (Julianne Hough, Dancing With the Stars) flees from untold secrets in Boston and settles in a sleepy coastal town located—you guessed it—in North Carolina. There she finds love sweet love with hunky widower Alex (Josh Duhamel, Transformers), who runs the local grocery store and has two adorable kids. How perfect! In their sweet and foreseeable romance, Katie stands to gain a wholesome insta-family. Until, of course, her past sins finally arrive in the film's third act.
This revelation is strikingly unpredictable, even intriguing, but Safe Haven fails to capitalize on that abrupt change of mood. Instead, the movie descends into narrative chaos; and Sparks' cross-genre experiment must ultimately confront the expectations of his faithful readers. You can guess who wins.