Josh Duhamel, who never met a romantic comedy or seasonally-themed Garry Marshall ensemble film he didn’t love, is an obvious choice to play the male lead in a Nicholas Sparks film. Indeed, the only thing surprising about Duhamel’s appearance in Safe Haven is the fact that he hadn’t appeared in a Sparks film sooner.
He got in just under the wire, too, because despite his boyish good looks, Duhamel is 40. And—awkward alert!—his costar in this film, Julianne Hough, is 24. Slightly gross, but hey, at least they look pretty together.
Safe Haven is your standard Sparks fare, with a few tiny twists. We have the girl with a troubled past. We have the sleepy beach resort town. We have the hot guy who takes his shirt off a lot. We have the two of them falling in love, montage style. We have the unspoken thing that threatens to tear them asunder.
In this case, that unspoken thing is a possible murder. As the film starts Katie (Hough) is fleeing the scene of a crime, with what appears to be blood on her hands. She cuts off her dark hair and even finds time to give it beautiful golden highlights. Then she dons a hoodie and hops onto a bus.
The cops, particularly the obsessive Detective Tierney (David Lyons), are hot on her trial. Tierney runs onto the buses at the depot, searching for her. There are four buses leaving the station, but he only manages to board three of them as the fourth bus, the one with Katie aboard, drives away safely.
“Dagnabit!” says Tierney. (Okay, not in so many words). If only he had a police car or the ability to chase down that fourth bus!
Then, Katie brilliantly decides to put down roots at one of the bus stops, the aforementioned sleepy resort town in North Carolina. Now, if you were on the lam from the law, might you consider living someplace slightly—I dunno—off the bus route? (Or maybe that’s the potential criminal mastermind in me talkin’). Luckily, just as Officer Tierney had no access to a police car, he also has no access to the bus routes, apparently.
Slowly, Katie gets comfortable in the small town, meeting her friendly, but enigmatic neighbor Jo (Colbie Smulders) and the hunky widower Alex (Duhamel) who runs the local convenience store with his two cherubic children.
Safe Haven can roughly be divided into four parts. There’s the opening scenes of Katie on the lam, which are not half bad. Then there’s the yawning middle part, as Katie and Alex fall in love, that literally looks like every other Nicholas Sparks film (I think if they had put in a reel from Dear John I wouldn’t have noticed.) Then there’s the dramatic and action-packed part where Katie’s past catches up with her! (If you had dozed off during the second part, this part will at least wake you up.) Then, there is the INSANE TWIST part at the end. Different people will have different reactions to this twist—ranging, I suppose, from love to loathe—but I’ll say this: The twist did sort of let the film off the hook for some seriously sketchy character development. (That sound you heard was me scratching some complaints out of my notes—and adding a whole new page of complaints.)
As for Dancing With the Stars alum Hough, she’s blandly pleasant and easy on the eyes, therefore a perfect match for Duhamel (he’s actually a slightly better actor—but just slightly). I’d almost recommend this film, just because of the wackadoo twist. Better idea? Have a friend (or frenemy?) see it and let them tell you what happens.