Counting Lasse Hallstrom’s Safe Haven, I’ve somehow managed to see the last four Nicholas Sparks adaptations. I remember little about those first three films, but I can unequivocally say that this won’t be the case with Safe Haven, a movie so unintentionally goofy — and even strange — that it’s already been branded into my memory. Even odder is that all this silliness doesn’t kick in until the climax. Up to that point, we’ve got the usual Sparksian odes to small town Southern living and egregiously schmaltzy romance. We start off by following Katie (Julianne Hough), a woman seemingly on the lam for attempted murder, who dodges the law by hopping on a Greyhound, and soon taking up residency in a tiny North Carolina coastal town. There, Katie reluctantly begins to acclimate herself, getting close to local shop owner Alex (Josh Duhamel) and a guarded woman named Jo (Cobie Smulders). As the film unwinds, we learn that Katie’s murder attempt was actually self defense against her crazed, alcoholic, police officer husband (David Lyons) who’s searching desperately for her. This goes almost exactly how you expect it, as Katie learns to trust Alex and the evil, sweaty, beady-eyed husband is eventually knocked off. We get to the finale, where Hallstrom, the script, and some questionable decision-making all come to a head (if you’re the type to worry about spoilers in a Nicholas Sparks movie, this is where you should stop reading). You see, as the dust settles from a jaw-dropping finale that seems to evoke Scorsese’s Cape Fear, we’re left with a scene where Katie finds out that her buddy Jo is really the ghost of Alex’s dead wife. We even get one of those Saw-style flashbacks, where the movie tells you how clever it’s been setting up this supernatural hullabaloo that has no business being in the movie in the first place. Seriously.
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