I'm not sure what it says about a writer's output that his best adaptation in years is a complete rip-off a 20-year-old Julia Roberts movie, but Nicholas Sparks' latest is perhaps his most tolerable film yet. Granted, he only wrote the original novel, not the completely adequate script, but there's no denying the similarities between Safe Haven and Sleeping with the Enemy.
Each film had a beautiful woman hiding out in a small town after escaping her abusive husband who ends up falling in love with a local everyman, with a climax featuring the Evil Husband showing up where she thought she could never be found. Dun-dun-dun!
Past Nicholas Sparks movies have made me angry at their gross misrepresentation of what love is and can be. Between Sparks and Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, we're going to have a whole generation of extremely disappointed women. But Safe Haven is much more cautious and slower paced. The courtship between Katie (Hough) and Alex (Duhamel) is leisurely and sweet, unlike the animal lust that consumed the couple in The Lucky One.
While this still has all the eye-rolling trademarks of a Nicholas Sparks production"”the Southern setting, characters so nice they're suspicious, and a scene set during a rainstorm that will eventually lead to some well lit PG-13 sex"”I found myself less aggravated and more willing to roll with a story to which I could easily guess the ending.
There are two more things that set Safe Haven apart from its brethren, one good and one unfortunate. The good is Katie's relationship with her neighbor Jo (Smulders). It's been a long time since I've seen a movie that actually develops a female friendship and has them talk about something other than relationship advice, even briefly. But the unfortunate part comes down to the direction. The flashbacks to which we see Katie's old life are handled without any tact. It borders on exploitation and with the PG-13 rating comes across as more disturbing, because it has to be brutal without being realistic.
Safe Haven is nothing special or groundbreaking. But the good news for guys this Valentine's Day is this: unlike past Nicholas Sparks movies you've had to take your girlfriend to, you can leave your cyanide capsule at home for this one.