The Nicholas Sparks universe finally gets the crime thriller it deserves, an erratic amalgam of mush and mystery, with an 11th-hour dose of supernatural visitation.
Watching “Safe Haven,” you feel a strange disconnect between what is happening with the characters and what is happening in the plot. In the foreground is a love story between a pair of agreeable stock characters. There's Katie (Julianne Hough), a Bostonian newly arrived in sleepy, photogenic Southport, N.C., and Alex (Josh Duhamel), the handsome, widowed proprietor of the quaint oceanside grocery. Behind them, clanking and grinding and popping rivets, is the story apparatus, a devilish meat grinder combining domestic violence, interstate flight from pursuing police and restless spirits. What's your point exactly, Nick?
You can understand the impulse to make “Safe Haven” stand apart from Sparks' growing catalog of bland, interchangeable romance movies, but the result is figurative and literal overkill. By piling complications atop surprise revelations, this scatterbrained film gets in its own way.
The film starts in a rush as Katie flees what appears to be a crime scene, slipping past the authorities by wearing a hoodie and feigning pregnancy. That may be a character note, actually. Hopping off the bus in scenic Southport, she's magnetically attracted to single dad Alex and his appealing kids. He's a sitcom-style lovable doofus with good fixer-upper potential. As a woman on the lam, however, Katie can't reveal her feelings, despite the urging of Jo (Cobie Smulders), a neighbor who encourages her to lighten up and settle down.