Press Pass LA attended the premiere and advance screening of Safe Haven at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood where we got to catch up with stars Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough, Mimi Kirkland, Noah Lomax and more!
Safe Haven is the lastest novel turned hopeful Hollywood blockbuster from author Nicholas Sparks, whose other book-to-screen successes include Message In a Bottle, The Notebook, and Dear John. With an opening debut on Valentine”s Day and his past scorecard, there is little worry that female moviegoers will be dragging their reluctant Valentines to the theater. But, if you are expecting the next Notebook, be ready for some disappointment. In fact, I’d suggest watching this adorable video interview with the onscreen kids and save yourself some heartache!
The film focuses around our heroine Katie (Julianne Hough) who escapes an abusive relationship after a fight the audience is led to believe ends in murder. With the help of an elderly neighbor, she quickly dyes and chops off her locks, boards a bus, and tries to start fresh in a small seaside town in North Carolina. Her plan to keep to herself is quickly foiled when she meets handsome widower and owner of the local general store Alex (Josh Duhamel) and his adorable kids Josh (Noah Lomax) and Lexie (Mimi Kirkland).
She is also befriended by local but mysterious gal Jo (Colbie Smulders). Just as her and Alex’s relationship is about to blossom and she feels truly at home, Katie’s past catches up with her in the form of disgraced cop Tierney (David Lyons) and she is forced to confront her haunting past.
The film is directed by Lasse Hallstrom (My Life as a Dog, Cider House Rules) and produced by Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey (both known for the successful Twilight series), with screenplay by Leslie Bohem and Dana Stevens. With such an impressive crew at the helm, it was almost shocking to see just how ‘safe’ this film played it! Despite chemistry between the leads and adorable moments by the youth cast, the film generally lacks the spark of well previous Sparks’ hits.
One of the hardest plot points to get by is the lack of actual tension surrounding Alex and Katie’s union. Sure, the son has some issues adjusting to a new ‘mother’ figure at first but that quickly disappates, and although Katie is supposedly on the run from the law and a victim of abuse, she shows no physical or psyschological resistance to Alex’s advances. After being practically strangled in the opening sequence, she barely flinches when Alex puts his hand around her neck to kiss her after their short introduction. Aside from the occasional nightmare and cold sweats about being caught, Katie seems unscathed by a relationship that drove her to murder.
Which brings me to the next issue. We are led to believe that Katie has murdered her unidentified boyfriend in the opening scene and that a local cop has a vendetta to find her. It becomes quickly clear that the alcohol-loving Tierney has a personal motive for finding Kaite but the audience is left in the dark too long as to what exactly that motive is. Then we are subjected to a jarring scene in which Tierney is seen in Katie’s former house, the ‘crime scene’ still untouched after months, where he passes out with a bottle of liquor. It became pretty obvious to anyone with half a brain at that point that Tierney was indeed the man from the opening sequence, but the film still waits a good act later to ‘reveal’ that Tierney is actually Katie’s husband who survived their brutal fight and bordering sanity is on a quest to find her and bring her home. Enough said on that.
But as if that wasn’t enough to swallow, when Tierney finds Katie during a street parade for the town’s holiday festivities, we are shown his viewpoint gazing at Katie and Alex in horror of their love. Similarly, we are shown the viewpoint of her mysterious friend Jo also looking on at Katie and Alex. Does she see Tierney? Does she know about Katie’s past? Is she jealous and in love with Alex? Is she not who she says she is? Only a few questions running through anyone’s mind because up to this point Jo has glaringly stood out as an all too convenient friend to Katie and a highly underdeveloped character. That alone had her on my list of flaws with this film but to make matters worse the audience is given this final plot twist. Jo is actual the ghost of Josh Duhamel’s deceased wife who only Katie has seen throughout the film. She was looking lovingly at them in the street fair because she is passing the torch of her family to Katie. Just to smack the audience in the face with this we are given this information when Alex presents Katie with a letter from his wife. (When she got ill she had written letters to her family for big milestones, reminiscent of the plot line in the film P.S. I Love You, and this is the final letter addressed ‘To Her’, Alex’s new love). Inside the letter is a picture of her with her family, revealing she is indeed Jo.
Just one last thing! Katie and Alex first kiss after a date where they take a canoe out on a lake and get caught in the rain. Oh right…I already saw that scene in The Notebook and done better with Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. Dear Nicholas Sparks, I don’t remember the last time I fell in love on a sea vessel in the rain but apparently in your world it’s pretty common!
Did I hate this film? No. In fact, I found many of the scenes quite entertaining and enjoyed the onscreen chemistry. I think the problem is that I am a huge sap for a great romantic comedy and I adore The Notebook. From the trailers, my expectations were high and perhaps my excitement even higher. Will any Sparks film ever live up to that benchmark, perhaps not. But Safe Haven certainly falls short and I place the abundance of that blame on the clichéd plot twists and narrative structure. Do I recommend you rushing out to the theater this holiday weekend, certainly not. But it’s a safe bet it will still bring in the box office numbers.
2 out of 4 stars. Watch the trailer.
View our full photo gallery from the red carpe premiere.
Check out our Q & A with Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel from the advance press day!