MRR Review: "Safe Haven"

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When a mysterious young woman named Katie appears in the small North Carolina town of Southport, her sudden arrival raises questions about her past. Katie seems determined to avoid forming personal ties until a series of events draws her into two reluctant relationships: one with Alex, a widowed store owner with a kind heart and two young children; and another with her plainspoken single neighbor. But even as Katie begins to fall in love, she struggles with the dark secret that still haunts and terrifies her past.
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MRR Review: "Safe Haven"

Rating: PG-13 (threatening behavior, violence, and sexuality)
Length: 115 minutes
Release Date: Feb. 14, 2013
Directed by: Lasse Hallström
Genre: Drama / Mystery / Romance

Perfectly timed with a Valentine's Day release, "Safe Haven" is a sappy romance with just enough heat to melt the coldest of hearts. Based on a book of the same name by Nicholas Sparks, who also authored "The Notebook" and "Dear John," this flick is bound to be a tearjerker and keep audiences foaming at the mouth for more romance. From dreamy Josh Duhamel to the picturesque setting, everything about the film is designed to draw viewers in and leave them desperate for more.

Set in a stunning ocean-side town in North Carolina, the film has all the makings of a cozy chick flick. Relative newcomer Julianne Hough stars as Katie, a spunky and lovable girl running from a twisted past that's overshadowed by her abusive ex in Boston. Fleeing her former life, Katie arrives in the sleepy town of Southport desperate for a new sense of life. She's welcomed warmly by the townsfolk and meets a mysterious man named Alex (Josh Duhamel) who catches her eye. An emotional widower raising two kids, Alex is cautious about Katie, treating her with respect but keeping his toes firmly dangling in his section of the friendship pool. This is fine with Katie since she's not looking for anything too serious just yet.

Like any good romance flick, the relationship between Katie and Alex grows with time, with both sides lowering their defensive walls and letting the other in for a look into each of their worlds. With every passing day, the duo grows closer and closer, finally giving in to their temptations and starting a sweet romance. As the couple gets comfortable in the new relationship, things take a turn for the worse as Katie's old life catches up with her. Never one to back down, Alex stands his ground and vows to protect his woman, while Katie feels the familiar need to flee.

Fans of Nicholas Sparks' previous works are bound to be overjoyed with "Safe Haven." Carefully following the book, the movie brings Sparks' works to life in a flash. The romance is real and palpable, with the buildup between the two main characters keeping viewers on edge. The writing is exceptional and it doesn't have the typical drawn-out feeling of a book-to-film translation. Instead, "Safe Haven" happily floats about and carries itself well on its own two feet.

The casting of certain roles is spot-on, with the leading lady in particular instantly catching the eye of moviegoers. Many will be delighted with Julianne Hough as her bubbly personality and cheerful ways light up the screen in a way that many young actresses today cannot. Her likeability and charm are undeniable, wooing the audience in with swift, deadly accuracy. Duhamel is believable in his role though he tends to get lost in the storm that is Julianne Hough. Despite this, he's veracious when it's needed, proving himself a serious actor with some depth to him other than dashing good looks.

Another major strength is the tension and suspense that suddenly jolts the film to life. With no real conflict after the two leads decide to pursue their love, the unexpected kick of Katie's past into her new happy life brings heaps of thrills to the formerly lovey-dovey, happy-go-lucky film. With heart-stopping suspense and an obvious threat to the leading lady, crowds will be gasping on the edge of their seats.

The film could have done with a bit more chemistry between the star roles. Duhamel and Hough seem like an odd pairing from the get-go, with their initial resistance of one another not helping much. While believable enough for the movie's sake, the two did seem a smidgen mismatched and sometimes out of touch with one another in the flick. This disconnect may have been due to Hough outshining Duhamel repeatedly.

Audiences should brace themselves for a shocking finale. The ending of "Safe Haven" is very much a love-it-or-hate-it type finale, with a select few strongly leaning towards the latter. Many viewers find it to be completely out-of-left-field, while those familiar with the story see it coming a mile away. Regardless of this surprise, audiences should be left with smiles on their faces and warmth in their hearts due to the simple, unbreakable love between the two main characters.

All in all, "Safe Haven" serves its purpose as a warm and fuzzy romance film that's meant to be watched with someone special. The tidbits of suspense and thriller make it bearable for men, while the meeting of two sensitive souls leaves female viewers hungry for more.

Rating: 3 out of 5