Saturday, February 16, 2013

Safe to a Fault: SAFE HAVEN


If I said that the most memorable thing about Safe Haven is its literally last minute, out-of-nowhere twist ending, that wouldn’t be true. That’s the only memorable thing about Safe Haven. Before that, the only thing that got close to being memorable was how short Julianne Hough’s shorts are in nearly every scene. She’s playing a troubled young woman who flees a half-revealed something in the opening Boston-set scenes, ending up living in a fixer upper on the outskirts of a small southern town. This is an adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, so you know that said small town has miles of sun-dappled Carolina coastline, a hunky single guy looking for love, some cute kids, passionate embraces in the rain, rowboats, and a person who is dead and/or dying of a terminal illness. It’s true that you know what you’re going to get with a picture like this. And hey, sometimes it works. Not here where it’s predictable and unconvincing in every detail, right up to and including that twist.

The thing about the movie is that there’s exactly nothing else worth talking about other than its final sixty seconds and I dare not give it away. But I don’t think I want to say even that much because it has the potential to give you the false impression that the movie’s worth talking about at all. The twist isn’t that crazy. It’s simply the only entirely unexpected jolt – shameless and sudden – in this otherwise lifeless dullness that played out across the screen before my eyes without ever once getting into my head or heart. To say it left me cold would be an understatement. It left me catatonic. I could only stare at it as it failed to come alive and become convincing in any way. Hough’s troubled young woman soon enough meets a widowered single father (Josh Duhamel) who takes a liking to her and their love is often professed and demonstrated without ever crackling with the chemistry you’d expect. They’re good looking and troubled so of course they’d be drawn together, the movie seems to say.

It’s all directed so dispassionately and disinterestedly by Lasse Hallström, who has made more than his fair share of bland, boring movies. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, anyone? But he’s still capable of surprising from time to time. Just a few years ago he directed an adaptation of Sparks’s Dear John, which isn’t great by any means, but is one that I’m quite fond of. It feels engaged, has winning performances from Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, and Richard Jenkins, and arrives at a place somewhat unexpected and naturally satisfying. That’s not the case with Safe Haven, which plods along at an agonizing pace as it dawdles its way through the story of two people who fall in love because this is a romance and that’s what the plot needs them to do. Oh, but it’s also a little bit of a thriller, because remember how the young woman was fleeing something in the opening scene? We cut back to Boston from time to time to watch David Lyons play the least believable police detective to hit the big screen in quite some time. He’s suppose to be dangerous, mainly because the music and color timing changes when he appears, but I sure never bought it.

This is the kind of movie that contains not a single line of dialogue that’s anything but strictly necessary to keep the plot moving. There’s no wit or imagination, just a sad march to an inevitable conclusion with a final minute that features a reveal about a character so big, you wonder why a movie so depressingly literal minded about everything else would fail to foreshadow it, let alone rush through and cut away to credits before it even sinks in. The script by Leslie Bohem and Dana Stevens (no, not that Dana Stevens) uses Sparks’s scenario to whip up situations with mystery and emotion and then proceeds to let them flatline, as if the vague notion of mystery were enough to carry it along. But I can’t be bothered to care about the mere idea of a mystery. Tell me a story; give me characters to know; get me involved. The filmmakers assume a great deal of audience buy-in that simply isn’t earned and the results for those who aren’t on board before the movie even starts are excruciating and empty. 

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