Movie review: Safe Haven

05:00 AM, Feb 17, 2013

Julianne Hough, right, and Josh Duhamel in a scene from 'Safe Haven.' (James Bridges/AP)/

Written By Barbara VanDenburgh | The Arizona Republic

The latest in a long, dull line of Nicholas Sparks book-to-film adaptations, Safe Haven plays out less like a love story than it does a two-hour audition tape Julianne Hough commissioned to land a lucrative lip-gloss-modeling contract.

She plenty smacks and bites those slick pink lips playing Katie, a 20-something runaway seemingly on the lam as she hops a bus just in time to evade the cop on her tail. The bus takes her all the way to Southport, N.C., where silent Katie prettily contemplates the water to the mournful pluckings of an acoustic guitar.

Still flawless after fleeing the law on a cross-country bus trip and then sleeping on the beach, Katie immediately lands a job as a server at Ivan’s Fish Shack, a gig that apparently pays well enough for her to buy a charming fixer-upper in the woods after a couple of paychecks so she can begin her new life of rugged isolation in earnest.

The kink in her plan is Alex (Josh Duhamel), the conveniently widowed beefcake with two adorable children — a ready-made family, if Katie would only open herself up to love’s possibilities. Which, this being a Nicholas Sparks adaptation, is bound to happen.

But first there must be days’ worth of chaste courting — bike riding, twirling on a tree swing, contemplative canoeing and eating baby carrots on the beach, long stretches of idyllic nothing that are less dreamy than they are boring.

And man, is it ever boring. It gets so that you forget to wonder why Katie is even there in the first place, at least until the rogue cop picks up her scent again in a dimwitted police-procedural subplot that would look more at home on the Hallmark Movie Channel. You know he’s the bad guy from the way he broods and swills from a vodka bottle as he’s driving.

Katie, meanwhile, grows closer to hunky Alex in spite of herself. She searches her heart on long walks through the woods with her friend Jo (Cobie Smulders), another inexplicably single loner lady living on the fringe who dispenses bromides like throat lozenges. “Life is full of second chances,” she sagely intones. “Would you look at that sunshine? It’s incandescent today.”

Are there really second chances? Can life begin anew? The film barely asks those questions, then lazily answers them in exactly the way everyone expects.