Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough.
WILL there ever be a good movie based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks?
Back in the golden years of Hollywood, directors from Frank Borzage to Douglas Sirk were able to fashion masterpieces from equivalent kinds of sentimental slop. If anyone is capable of such alchemy nowadays, it's not Lasse Hallstrom, who had his day as an Oscar hopeful with The Cider House Rules but now seems resigned to lowly hackdom.
Safe Haven tells the story of Katie (Julianne Hough), who's first seen fleeing from a mysterious, violent encounter. She finds her haven in the seaside town of Southport, North Carolina, where she rents a cottage in the woods and meets her dream man in Alex (Josh Duhamel), a widower and father of two, who runs the general store.
There are brief interludes of menace, but the film soon reverts to a sunny, drowsy tone. The appeal lies in the fantasy of escape: escape from a specific threat, but also from the complexity of the real world.
Cinematographer Terry Stacey specialises in natural light flooding into dim interiors, and Hallstrom - unintentionally, no doubt - uses colour symbolism to build the feeling of an all-Caucasian idyll: Katie spends half the movie painting her cottage floor yellow; her newly blonde hair frames her face like an aureole, enhancing her resemblance to Jennifer Aniston. Elsewhere, American flags flutter in a fourth of July parade, while folk troubadour Jake Smith sings of a lazy afternoon ''bluer than my little boy's eyes''.
General (M, 118 minutes)