Directed by Lasse Hallstrom
Screenplay by Dana Stevens
Rated TBC. 118 minutes
A part in a Nicholas Sparks adaptation has become a rite of passage for Hollywood's up-and-coming romantic leads. Ryan Gosling, Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, Rachel McAdams, Miley Cyrus and Zac Efron have all been through it.
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Seven of Sparks's 17 novels have been filmed so far, accumulating a box office gross of a quarter of a billion. And the fact most of these movies have been as exciting as watching the paint dry on one of the shabby-chic clapboard cottages that are a fixture in a Sparks plot doesn't seem to matter. The dollars just keep rolling in.
The latest, Safe Haven, is as soporific as usual. It's the second Sparks adaptation to be directed by Sweden's Lasse Hallstrom, who was responsible for Dear John, the Channing Tatum hit. And it has absolutely nothing in common with Hallstrom's last romantic comedy, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, which had pace, crispness and a cheering sense of irreverence. There's no trace of any of those elements here - even though Sparks has tried to speed things along by leavening the schmalz with a messy dollop of suspense.
The stars are tall, bland and handsome Josh Duhamel - best known for his starring role in the TV series Las Vegas - and Julianne Hough, who's small, blonde and even more bland. This is her first big part in a non-musical. She sang and danced her way through Burlesque, Footloose and Rock of Ages. Now that the music has stopped, we're being encouraged to focus on her acting abilities, and the view isn't exactly rewarding.
When the film opens, she's on the run from an abusive marriage and the police, led by the Australian actor David Lyons as a sweaty, wild-eyed detective, are in close pursuit. She manages to elude them by darting on to an interstate bus heading south. Then, having reached North Carolina, she suddenly decides to get off.
We've landed in a photogenic fishing village deep in Sparks country, which means the locals are friendly, the sunsets are blinding and there's a rundown clapboard cottage in the woods available for rent. Even more important, one of the friendliest locals is highly eligible. This is Duhamel's Alex, a young widower with two children, the cutest of whom takes to Hough right off.
Sparks now has to think of ways to postpone the prospect of his would-be lovers getting together and living happily ever after. In the past, he's proved expert at this. Several of the films made from his books have been unabashed weepies in which the triumph of true love has been thwarted by war, mortal illness, the tyranny of distance or intricate combinations of all three.
Recently, however, he's softened up a bit and started making things a little easier. A happy ending has been clearly in sight from the lovers' first meeting - which is the way things are here.
We can see they're meant for one another, despite the machinations of the sweaty detective, who must surely catch up with Hough in time for an action-packed denouement of a kind Sparks has not tried before.
And why now? Could he be bored with the formula that has been sustaining his brand for so long? It's certainly getting more feeble with every film.
As to whether it's going to work any magic for Duhamel and Hough, you'd have to understand how the box office works to tell. It's beyond me. All I can say is I felt sorry for him and bored by her. The evidence may be scant but bits of his Las Vegas performance hint at a flair for the light romantic. If Tatum can do it, he can. But Hough's best hope is to get back to the music. Fast.