Rated: PG-13 for thematic material involving threatening behavior, and for violence and sexuality. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: February 14, 2013 Released by: Relativity Media
Another Valentine's Day, another Nicholas Sparks Productions movie; this casual one with a couple of twists that will remind folks of a Julia Roberts thriller and a more impressive Bruce Willis one (no, not of the Die Hard franchise).
Lasse Hallstrom's movie, of course (based on a Sparks novel), has some kind of cinematic elixir up his sleeve for romantics as a somewhat disguised Katie (Julianne Hough of Rock of Ages) is headed for Atlanta but ends up in the picaresque, sleepy seaside village of Southport, North Carolina. Part and parcel for the sweet, if emotionally scheming tale is for Katie to meet a general store proprietor on the wharf, Alex (Josh Duhamel doing his best to project some of the charm like in the more comedic Win a Date With Tad Hamilton! and When In Rome). Hallstrom is diligent to carefully handle the backstories of a distraught, rather assured Katie and the widowed Alex doing his best for his cute kids, Noah Lomax as Josh and especially Mimi Kirkland as Lexie (with their own ways of connecting to their deceased mother).
Lexie recommends yellow paint for Katie to buy to do the floor in her new rustic, remote cottage; Roger (Red West of Goodbye Solo and who had a strong Memphis connection to superstar Elvis Presley), Alex's loyal assistant of an uncle, can't remember anyone asking for paint in the store. Just an excuse for Alex to order and carry paint for her and really get to know her through some family beach time, even drop off a bicycle for her.
This mostly gentle, routine date movie does its best off given the physical allure of its stars as a tenderness grows between them when dancing or outside her cabin (with some unsturdy floorboards). But the intrusion of why Katie's on the run and her deception from her photo on a bulletin that Alex gets to see turns out to be disruptive to the film's use of niceties and an upbeat turnabout for the coda from a note headed by "To Her."
Australian thespian David Lyons (Eat, Pray, Love) is weakly enabled by the plotting as an obsessed Boston officer - jaded and deranged - swigging away at a "water" bottle as the climactic incendiary Fourth of July fireworks nears. Some flash-backing finally reveals what led Katie or Erin to this point as the pursuing "authority" figure ends up in a more restless state after talking with the naturally vibrant Lexie who happens to be covering briefly for her busy dad.
The way in which Safe Haven needs to ominously transition back to a more rarefied, schmaltzy place victimizes the desired emotional payoff that may be considered too absurd for some as this Sparks adaptation. The importance of the relationships - not only between Katie and Alex and Alex and his impressionable children - especially Katie and her withdrawn neighbor - tall and dark haired Jo, filled with solemn vigilance by Cobie Smulders (The Avengers) is valued in a pretty, but ultimately awkwardly rendered melodrama.