There are a few best-selling authors that have a built-in audience when it comes to adaptations of their novels. Stephen King is one. John Grisham is another. And for chick flicks, there is Nicholas Sparks. I’ve seen enough adaptations of his stories that I can recite the formula: Two lonely hearts meet. One is beautifully damaged, either physically (from domestic abuse) or emotionally (a young widow/widower). Another is a sexy outsider, with secrets… usually dark, but ultimately forgivable. They meet in a sun-dappled small town in the Carolinas, where they can frolic in the waves, make eyes at each other in the folksy bar/family restaurant, go on romantic canoe trips, and make love in a rustic cabin. The past will catch up to them somehow, but one vows to protect the other despite all, so true, wounded love can win out in the end. Mix and match any of these pieces and you have a movie!
I’ve pretty much told you the plot of Safe Haven (see, the plot is right there in the title alone!). The loner/outsider with a dark secret is Katie (Julianne Hough). The emotionally wounded hot widower is Alex (Josh Duhamel). There is frolicking in waves. There are cute, motherless children. There is a wise best friend pushing the two together. There is a sexy little cabin with a broken floorboard, that causes them to laugh and laugh. And there is danger lurking that threatens to ruin everything!
Safe Haven is actually pretty watchable in a benign way. Hough and Duhamel are pretty to look at, and it doesn’t hurt that they both have rockin’ abs. The small seaside town is kind of dreamy in a quaint way. And these movies are always a great sell for touting the down-homeness of North Carolina as your next vacation destination.
But in the dramatic finale there is a true howler of a plot twist that will have you exclaiming, “What the hell?!?!” before rolling your eyes, snickering, and pressing the stop button on your viewing device of choice. It is supposed to be poignant, but I can only imagine a full audience exploding with laughter at the big reveal. Nicholas Sparks has never been called subtle, but his audience doesn’t want subtlety. His fans will probably eat this one up, but the rest of you best steer clear.