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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

REVIEW: No matter what, fans of Nicholas Sparks will still enjoy 'Safe Haven'



Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel star in Relativity Media´s "Safe Haven."

 
Nicholas Sparks
Last Friday marked the opening of the newest addition in the Nicholas Sparks' family of film adaptations, "Safe Haven."


Whether this is lucky number seven or not - remains to be seen. It was definitely not the love story I expected, it was better. Instead of heartbreaking, it was heart thumping.  


For the first 20 minutes, that is.


As with all of the best sellers written by the North Carolina author, at the heart of the story are two characters (who could be anyone in America) that are thrown together - by a number of circumstances or people – and fall in love. 


In Sparks latest feature, the love interest is Katie (Julianne Hough) who appears on the screen immediately. It's a thrilling scene that has her running from someone in the middle of the night during the pouring rain.  The suspense builds as she ducks out of the cold and settles into a seat on a Greyhound bus. Will the stranger hunting her down, who appears to be a cop, figure out what bus she's on?


Then the bus pulls out of the station, leaving the man behind. The suspense lingers until Katie gets off the bus in a tiny coastal town and decides to remain there instead of traveling on to Atlantic City. She rents a rundown cabin and takes a job waiting on tables in the local café and tries to keep a low profile - until she meets the town's grocery store owner, Alex, and his two young children, Josh (Noah Lomax) and Lexie (Mimi Kirkland).

So begins the woozy love story that Sparks’ core audience came to see.


Even Hough admits that is why she was keen to take on the role.


"I read all of his books," she said, in production notes released to the press. "A Walk to Remember" was my favorite when I was growing up. I must have read it seven times and then watched the movie over and over and over. Nicholas really speaks to women. He understands that we want compassion and love, safety and security."


David Lyons as Kevin Tierney in Relativity Media's "Safe Haven."
Those of us drawn into that opening scene, though, could have done with a little more suspense. It's there. We get a taste of it. David Lyons, who plays the character of Kevin Tierney, Katie's abusive husband and the crooked cop chasing her down, does a great job as the villain. Lyons, as with another member of the Nicholas Sparks alumni, Ryan Gosling (“The Notebook”), is intense and has that larger-than-life magnetic quality about him. 


But the scenes that he’s in are short and far-between, and the recipe for suspense that kicked things off, has been diluted. 


The story also jumps too quickly. The plot recalls the 1991 Julia Roberts movie "Sleeping With the Enemy," in which the heroine fled an abusive husband (by faking her own death) to start a new life. It took a while before Roberts' character was willing to befriend anyone - so there was some tugging of heartstrings. Whereas here, Katie jumps into a canoe and off they go. There's definitely chemistry between Hough and Josh Duhamel, who plays Alex, but other than a few cute moments, the drama between them is ho-hum. 


Noah Lomaz, at left, Julianne Hough, Mimi Kirkland and Josh Duhamel.
The same can be said of the scenes shared between Alex and his son, Josh. This is a little boy who lost his mother Jo (Cobie Smulders). There are glimpses of father-to-son moments (such as after the fire) but nothing that really sticks. Mimi Kirkland, who plays Alex's daughter, Lexi, has a couple of heartwarming scenes with Hough -- as her father's clerk-in-training -- but one expects more from director Lasse Hallstrom (“Dear John,” “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”) and screenwriter Dana Stevens (“Julie and Julia,” “Life or Something Like It”).

Despite what wasn't on the screen -- it's another Sparks story fans will want to see. "Safe Haven" is rated PG-13.



Other films adapted from Sparks' novels include:

  • "The Notebook," starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams
  • "Message in a Bottle" starring Kevin Costner and Robin Wright Pen
  • "A Walk to Remember" starring Mandy Moore and Shane West
  • "Nights in Rodanthe," starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane
  • Dear John" starring Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried
  • "The Last Song," starring Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth
  • "The Lucky One," starring Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling




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