Safe Haven (2013)

(Netflix Streaming, January 2017) Seasoned movie reviewers often praise execution over originality, and movies like Safe Haven tend to prove their point: what works in this film is familiarity, while what doesn’t work is audaciousness. As a romance/thriller hybrid, Safe Haven feels familiar from the get-go, although the opening segment insists forcefully on the thriller aspect of it. Things soon settle down on an idyllic portrayal of a woman on the run (Julianne Hough, unremarkable) finding temporary peace in a small coastal community. Preposterously cute, this segment of the film feels the most comforting: our protagonist soon finds a job, a place to live (without showing any papers!), friends and eventually an impossibly ideal boyfriend (Josh Duhamel, in a good role). It is, after all, adapted from a Nicholas Spark novel. In parallel, sequences featuring a dangerously unhinged cop suggests that this is all about to crash down … and it does, at the same time as lies are exposed, a relationship seemingly breaks apart and the town revels in its Fourth of July celebration. Familiar stuff, ably directed by veteran Lasse Hallström but comforting all the same: Likable actors such as Mimi Kirkland and Red West help sell the fantasy of a small town where people can just come in and be warmly received. But the film does have two twists up its sleeve and if the first one isn’t too far-fetched by the standards of the thriller genre, the final one (about Cobie Smulder’s character) just feels moronic, even by the conventions of heartwarming romances. It does help cement a generally unfavourable impression of a film that, up until then, was teetering between comfort and cliché. Once the final revelation rolls by, Safe Haven becomes easily dismissible as nothing more than romantic pulp, perhaps engaging at time but ultimately tainted by one useless twist too far.

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