I’m a young, 20-something female who loves to read. One can say that based on my gender I’m the perfect demographic for a Nicholas Sparks adaptation. To that person, I’d say that that is a horrific misconception as I generally abhor all things Sparks-related. And yet, I can’t stop myself from seeing what atrocities Hollywood perpetuates with the author’s material. There are some decent Sparks adaptations out there (The Notebook continuing to be the high point), but the latest film, Safe Haven, is bottom of the barrel. The movie looks good, and the leads are likable, but the script is paper-thin with decisions that make ambivalence a national past-time. The Blu-ray has some okay features, and there is an intriguing premise to be mined, but this is a rental overall.
After running away from her abusive husband, Katie (Julianne Hough) settles down in a small coastal town. She soon meets a widower with two children (Josh Duhamel) who falls for her. As Katie gets comfortable, old fears of her husband finding her come creeping back.
The domestic abuse storyline is always rife for compelling drama, and when the script doesn’t sugarcoat it there are true moments of tension. The flashback to when Katie left her husband, complete with almost being strangled, is given the fear it deserves. However, all of that is bogged down in trite idyllic language about love. When Alex (Duhamel) tells Katie he’ll protect her, it’s not a man declaring his love for a woman; it’s a man saying he’ll be the one to protect her from her crazy husband. The film may want to show an appropriate depiction of domestic abuse, but it does a disservice to women in that situation by wrapping everything up in cuddly dialogue. Katie isn’t broken or damaged; she’s simply in a “bad relationship” that she was able to get out of. Keep in mind she’s one of a small few that make it out of a relationship like that with her life.
The world of Sparks is one that cannot deal with real-world issues and it shows by how stupid character decisions are. Katie’s husband is a cop, and yet no one gets the idea to call his superior and have him brought up on harassment? When he is finally caught, after putting out a nationwide APB about Katie being a murderer, his boss is more concerned about him being a drunk. Because the script is so afraid of making the events too dark, they decide to distance everything and wrap it up in stupidity that anyone who’s watched Law and Order: SVU would be able to decipher. Add on top of that a “twist” that’s pointless, and you have Safe Haven.
I really hate to bash it because the leads are likable. Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel are the poster children for this type of movie; they’re pretty, they have good chemistry, and they’re pretty, but not too pretty. Hough, especially, is sweet and bubbly and I have liked her in the majority of the movies she’s done. It’s nice to see Duhamel remove that cocky bad-boy chip he’s been rocking in several movies. Here, he’s a foppish widowed father that you want to cuddle with. I also enjoyed Cobie Smulders as the mysterious Jo, although this is a far cry from her work in The Avengers.
The combo pack is for die-hard Nicholas Sparks’ fans; I’m not one, but I don’t begrudge those who want to have this in every way possible. The Blu-ray has decent audio and video. The bonus features include a few deleted and extended scenes that don’t enhance the movie and it’s easy to see why they were excised; an alternate ending (intriguing but nothing special); Blu-ray exclusive featurettes on Igniting the Romance in Safe Haven, a set tour, and Josh Duhamel’s Lessons in Crabbing (it’s a feature devoted to him trying to catch crabs…that sounds wrong). The DVD has the deleted/extended scenes and the alternate ending. There’s also a digital copy to put on your iPod, Android, etc.
I didn’t enjoy this movie, but I know countless women who will; to each their own. If you want to own Safe Haven the Combo Pack is the cheapest and best way to get every version of this movie at one price. For those who are on the fence about it, I recommend renting it first.