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'Safe Haven:' Some Things Are Better Left Read

Director Lasse Hallstrom fails to paint the same emotion and warmth on the big screen as author Nicholas Sparks paints in his book, "Safe Haven."

For Nicholas Sparks, success is an understatement.  With sixteen books on the New York Times Bestseller list, eight film adaptations from his novels, a supernatural television show set to debut on ABC, and a recently acquired production company, Sparks is building a media empire. 

Unfortunately, director Lasse Hallstrom’s work in "Safe Haven" will only help to bring that empire down.  

The story is set in Southport, N.C.  Katie (Julianne Hough) discovers the small town while escaping from her abusive husband (David Lyons). Meanwhile, Alex (Josh Duhamel), the local store owner and recent widower, takes to her immediately, as does his young daughter.  Following a few encounters, the pair end up romantically hitting it off, allowing Katie to forget her past.  But the past is not far behind, as her husband’s obsession with finding her eventually leads him to her and to a frightful ending.  

I knew what to expect as I have read, and very much enjoyed, the novel.  With movies such as What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and The Cider House Rules credited to his name, I figured Hallstrom would be able to take a Sparks novel and paint the same emotion on the big screen as I got from the book. 

I figured wrong. 

I should have known better after the utter disappointment Hallstrom delivered with Dear John, his first directorial debut of a Sparks novel.  The emotion is lacking, the clichés are overflowing, and the twist at the end are nauseating.  However, it did leave the teenage girls in the front row sobbing, so maybe I just have a lower tolerance for corn.   

The characters all lack depth.  I don’t remember thinking of Katie as an uneducated, drab woman as I read the book, but the screenplay illustrates her as so.  In the book, she plans out her escape.  In the film, she runs haphazard after stabbing her husband.  And besides a few random dreams she has at night, the fear of him finding her is never present.  After years of abuse, I’d figure a woman would be terrified of being caught, especially after seeing her picture on a wanted poster.

Alex is the desperate, widowed father of two who fumbles when it comes to women, yet possesses a certain chivalry and kindness.  His characters matches what I remember from the book.  Alex has to look as decent as possible, as he has to be everything opposite from Katie’s husband.  Screenplay writers Leslie Bohem and Dana Stevens did their best to exaggerate the two stock characters basic traits so audiences would love one and hate the other.  In stereotypical films, there always needs to be a character the audiences roots for. 

I recently read Rose Madder, a Stephen King novel, and the likeness between Lyons character, Kevin Tierney, and the abusive husband in that book are more so than the character Sparks wrote about.  Tierney is the “bad guy” of the plot; an alcoholic who drinks and drives, threatens neighbors, and abuses his position as a police officer.  It is as if Bohem and Stevens wrote him up to be as evil as possible so his end could be justified to all the young people who’d be going to watch the film.

I blame Hallstrom, Bohem and Stevens for the lack of heart in "Safe Haven" versus blaming the actors themselves.  Hough, Duhamel and Lyons took their roles and played them the best as they could.  I have no complaints.  And the real show stoppers were Alex's children, played by Mimi Kirkland and Noah Lomax.  Their charm and clever lines are what kept me watching the film. 

I continue to wait for a Nicholas Spark’s film adaptation that can compare to "The Notebook."  Why Sparks doesn’t demand to have Nick Cassavetes direct his next film is beyond me.  "The Notebook" touched my heart in a way no other dramatic film has. "Safe Haven" touched my bank account in a way several other mundane movies have.  If you want hours of emotion and suspense, pick up "Safe Haven" at your local bookstore.  If you want two hours of predictability and dullness, buy a ticket at your local movie theater.

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