Nicholas Sparks adaptations seem to be becoming a genre all of their own, Sparks is even credited as producer here, and there is little in Safe Haven that will most likely be of interest to those not already head over heels in love with his particular brand of romantic melodrama. Fans of his now tried and tested formula though will no doubt lap up this new adaptation from director Lasse Hallstrom, who one can’t help but feel is simply picking up a cheque.
Beginning with a sequence involving the escape of Katie (Julianne Hough) from police detective Kevin (David Lyons) at a bus station, filmed very much in the vein of a ‘gritty’ television police procedural, the film quickly moves to the perpetually sunny and ‘dreamy’ Southport. This small town in North Carolina provides the main location for the bulk of the film, with a few cuts back to Kevin and his continued hunt for Katie, and with it a host of clichéd ideas about small town living and a selection of even more clichéd inhabitants.
Leading the pack of clichéd Southport residents is Alex (Josh Duhamel), a widowed father of two who takes a liking to the latest resident of Southport, the guarded but reasonably friendly Katie. Alex is drawn in simple but relatively effective broad brush strokes but often comes across far more as a robot designed to be everything a woman wants rather than even a weak facsimile of a real person. This ultimately seems to be the modus operandi here, as the basic need to provoke a simplistic response from a weak-minded audience member seems to motivate every character trait and plot point far more than any sense that this all needs to make sense or feel at all genuine.
Katie’s secret for instance, which leads her to flee her home and hide out in Southport is rather flimsy and it’s hard to understand why it needs to remain a secret for so long when most people – especially dreamy widowers – would totally understand and sympathise with her situation. Katie never even opens up to her overly-friendly neighbour Jo (Cobie Smulders) who seems so eager to make Katie happy, whose motivations later become very clear. Simply telling her or Alex would wrap things up too quickly though. She must keep it a secret because it works out ‘better’ for the plot. A plot which follows the three act structure so rigidly that if you check your watch when you think each act is ending you will not be surprised to find that the film’s runtime has been perfectly split into three.
As the film reaches its climax, with the reveal of Katie’s secret and the arrival of Kevin in Southport, the film begins to ramp up to an absurd and unfortunately comedic level of melodrama, with additional moments of peril thrown in simply to increase the level of threat without any thought to how silly they come across.
In the film’s final scenes the biggest melodramatic secret of all is revealed and it is such an incredibly left-field piece of writing that Sparks and co. almost deserve praise just for having the sheer guts to include it. The final reveal is a twist that is actually painfully obvious around thirty minutes into the film but one that most will undoubtedly dismiss as simply too insanely ridiculous to possibly be real.
Whilst this wonderfully absurd reveal and some of the more histrionically acted scenes do provide some unintended pleasures the film is for the most part an exhausting slog through clichéd characters and formulaic writing that is near impossible to take at all seriously.
Safe Haven is out in UK cinemas on the 1st of March.