Movie review: Safe Haven (M)

HOLLYWOOD has come a long way in terms of the romantic comedy.

Just three years ago I was forced to endure (and review) Valentine’s Day, an American rip-off of Love, Actually

This year I felt the same dread I get around Valentine’s Day. A Nicholas Sparks film released on the “day of love” will make any boyfriend wary.

For those unaware, Sparks is the romance writer behind titles The Notebook, Dear John, A Walk to Remember and The Lucky One (as well as many others).

But it was a pleasant surprise to see that Sparks and the film’s director Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolate, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) had worked to add a lot of depth to the characters. It meant the run-of-the-mill romantic plot was made all the more interesting.

A mysterious young girl named Katie arrives in the sleepy seaside town of Southport determined to start a new life after running from Chicago.

Wary of starting new relationships and letting her guard down, Katie eventually befriends shop owner Alex and his children Lexi and Josh.

As the audience gradually tries to figure out Katie’s past and Katie slowly falls for Alex, it is only a matter of time before all is revealed.

A couple of major twists and a thrilling back story keep Safe Haven intriguing for the boys while girls have the chance to gush and be caught up in the romance the North Carolina setting and lead actor Josh Duhamel bring to the film. Duhamel (New Year’s Eve, Transformers) leads a cast that isn’t packed with typical Hollywood stars.

Julienne Hough plays the mysterious Katie and does well in her first major role that doesn’t involve singing. Hough has previously  been in musical films Rock of Ages, Footloose and Burlesque.

Supporting the leads are How I Met Your Mother’s Cobie Smulders and Australian David Lyons.

Smulders plays a neighbour who befriends Katie when she arrives in town. The role continues a push to film for Smulders who also appeared in 2012 blockbuster The Avengers.

Lyons began his acting career on Blue Heelers and Neighbours before becoming a regular cast member in the last two seasons of ER. In Safe Haven he plays a determined detective who is on the hunt for Katie. 

As a whole, Safe Haven is worth the seeing. Women will love the softer side of it while the mystery is something that drives the whole film and can keep the men interested at the same time.

It continues the solid run of book-to-film adaptations that clearly appeal to the romance demographic.  It is also encouraging that despite the seemingly fast rate Sparks writes and produces his novels and movies, they can still have enough depth in the plot and characters to be worth a two-hour running time.

You see Hollywood, it isn’t that hard to make a romance film. 

The Verdict: 3½ stars.

- Silver Linings Playbook (M) is now showing at Bendigo Cinemas. 

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