SAFE HAVEN – Review by Susan Granger

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There are certain predictable elements to movies like “The Notebook,” “Dear John,” “Message in a Bottle,” based on Nicholas Sparks’ novels: death, danger and disaster, ultimately leading to romance, and punctuated by idyllic, seaside interludes, rainstorms, Spanish moss and a seasonal celebration.

As this story begins, a distraught young woman (Julianne Hough) flees from a violent suburban crime scene, cuts her long, brunette hair and bleaches it blonde before surreptitiously boarding a bus going south. Impulsively, she gets off in Southport, a sleepy, small community on the picturesque North Carolina coastline. Seeking a chance to bury her past, she introduces herself as Katie and gets a job as a waitress. Almost as soon as wary Katie rents a cabin that’s isolated in the woods, she’s befriended by a neighbor, Jo (Cobie Smulders), and catches the eye of the proprietor of the general store, Alex (Josh Duhamel). He’s a recent widower who is raising his sullen, sensitive, pre-teen son (Noah Lomax) and disarmingly spunky, eight year-old daughter (Mimi Kirkland). Problem is: back in Boston, there’s a crazed, vodka-swilling detective (David Lyons) who is determined to track Katie down.

Adapted by Dana Stevens and Gage Lansky, the Nicholas Sparks story combines elements from “Sleeping With the Enemy,” in which Julia Roberts fled from an abusive husband and tried to make a new life for herself in a different place, and “The Sixth Sense,” which delved into the supernatural. But director Lasse Hallstrom, who helmed “Dear John,” along with “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” “My Life as a Dog,” “The Cider House Rules” and “Chocolat,” fails to elicit much suspense.

Perhaps the primary problem is the casting. Best known for her “Footloose” song-and-dance routines, perky Julianne Hough tries to evoke a young Meg Ryan, while Josh Duhamel (“Transformers”) oozes bland, even robotic sensitivity. And the supporting actors, except for enchanting Mimi Kirkland, are insipidly generic.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 1o, “Safe Haven” is a sappy, tear-stained 6, filled with the sentimental schmaltz that characterizes the appeal of this kind of chick-flick.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.