Julianne Hough is on the run, and probably not just in this film, because as if ABC wasn't mad at her enough for leaving "Dancing With the Stars" to hook up with the face of "American Idol", she supported Mitt Romney, and you do not want to mess with dumb liberals as powerful as the lunatics at ABC. Man, I wonder if liberals are ever going to realize how unfair it is that the citizens who are publically representing them are well-spoken people of power whose sense lapses only when it comes to politics, while everyone recognizes us conservatives through our rednecks, old people who interact with chairs, and people whose tastes in films don't exactly reflect quality judgement skills. I'm not saying that Hough needs to clean up her act, but not even her characters make terribly good calls, as this film will tell you, because no one is safe on a beach in a Nicholas Sparks story, seeing as how someone has got to drown or almost drown at some point. Well, she is backed up by William Lennox of Michael Bay's "Transformers" trilogy and Maria Hill, who is in cahoots with the Avengers, so I think she'll be alright from David Lyons, whose only experience with superheroes is "The Cape". I was about to say that this film isn't quite as exciting as it sounds, but I reckon I lost you at "The Cape", if I even had you in the first place, that is, because really, can you even expect a Nick Sparks thriller to be all that thrilling? Hey, Lasse Hallström was able to make something as boring-sounding as "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" adequately entertaining, so it's hard not to have some hope for this project, which makes it all that more unfortunate that it should end up falling flat. So yeah, quality isn't too safe when it comes to this film, but neither is it in too much danger, thanks to some undeniable strengths.
You know that strengths are slim when you have to go so far to compliments shooting locations, but really, from what I can gather, environment is a somewhat major aspect in Nicholas Sparks stories, which celebrate their settings as story and theme components that need to be well-selected in the long run, and indeed are, for although we're not exactly hanging out in the Bahamas here, this film's Southport, North Carolina, setting boasts a secure warmth and subtle loveliness that helps in defining this story in some ways. True, it's often hard to get all that firm of a grip on the thematic value behind this film's environment, but if you bond with nothing else when it comes to this story, then you're bound to be a little connected to the immersive value behind attractive location tastes, and maybe even the engagement value behind some decent performances. Now, as you can probably imagine, there's very little for our performers to work with, so there are no truly outstanding performances in this film, with the underused David Lyons going so far as to be all-out weak in uneven, borlingly under-expressive, when not cheesily overdone performance, yet there are more decent notes to this cast than I expected, with the lovely, but usually hit-or-miss Julianne Hough being, not necessarily revelatory, but worth commenting on in this film, as she convinces and charms enough to bond with her role and do the best that she can to sell you on character depth and keep this character study afloat. Hough and company are underwritten, but, with the exception of Lyons, generally adequate in their efforts, and a film like this at least needs that, being a sloppily written character piece whose characters remain well-portrayed enough to earn some moderate degree of your investment, almost entirely through the charm that all but saves the final product. Now, don't get me wrong, the film isn't so charming that it entertains to the point of achieving, at the very least, decency, and what charm there is is largely achieved only through sheer somewhat endearing ambition, but when it's all said and done, it's hard to deny that this film does try. Sure, the final product's efforts to escape mediocrity are to no avail, but there is something to like in the telling of this generally unlikable tale, and with that charm going bonded with the aformentioned strengths, - few though there may be - the final product comes out standing on the edge of genuine decency. Still, no matter how much the film tries, it doesn't quite make it to decency, being far from dislikable, but too disengaging to satisfy, at least on some level, thanks in part to, of all things, unevenness in pacing.
Sure, there have more more messily paced Nicholas Sparks films, but make no mistake, this film's storytelling is hardly all that tight, slapdashing certain aspects in a rather awkward fashion that throws off momentum, though not quite as much as the moments of slow-down, of which, there are too many, being achieved through anything from excess filler to repetition, and detrimental to kicks, especially when accompanied by atmospheric dry spells that further distance engagement value. The film is hardly boring, but it is bland much more often than not, no matter how much it desperately attempts to wake you up with "thriller" aspects at times that would be more effective if they weren't so superficially handled or, of course, forced, breaking through the relatively lighter moments in atmosphere with tonal unevenness that could very well have been thinned out if the film took time to flesh out its tonal layers or, for that matter, anything. Look, it's not like you haven't seen these characters or this story time and again, so it's not like exposition would bring anything new to this film's substance, but some effort has to be made to flesh out this story if it's to be all that engaging, and with this film, while development isn't thrown entirely out of the window, it is thinned out something fierce, failing to cook conflict enough to secure intrigue that is key in any thriller, even ones of this type, which play up thrills only so much and primarily meditate upon character value, something that this film can't even flesh out nearly as much as it should. Sure, there's just enough heart to most of the acting to keep this character study from falling completely flat, but, on paper, the substance behind this drama boasts few organic layers, and only so much expository depth, resulting in superficial characterization that strips away much of the genuineness within the humanity behind this character piece, and disengages you about as much as the histrionics that no paint-by-the-numbers Nick Sparks film would be complete without. Rather surprisingly, Sparks' dialogue tastes aren't quite as sloppily translated as they have been in other adaptations of his melodramas, but Gage Lansky's and Dana Stevens' punch-up is pretty bland, and that gives you quite the opportunity to meditate upon how most every other storytelling aspect is tainted with histrionics, which aren't so intense that the final product comes out resembling a soap opera, but are nonetheless considerable in their corning up dramatic depth with manufactured theatrics that are all too often much too manipulative to be bought into. It all comes down to a twist to an all but entirely superfluous subplot involving Cobie Smulders that is just plain laughable, contradicting the film's general tone and themes in such a ludicrous fashion that you really have do have to see to believe, and yet, with that said, you can still see such a lame turn of events if you look close enough, because this film is too superficial to not be easy to deconstruct, and I guess that would be fine and all, if the last chunks of meat to this bone-dry project weren't firmly plucked off by, of course, genericisms. The film is trite, same as most every effort pertaining to Nick Sparks, and that thoroughly reflects the final product's having very little, if anything in the way of guts, being not so lame that it can't almost be saved as decent by what few strengths it has, but ultimately too undercooked to be all that effective or memorable, thus resulting in a fluff piece that meanders along and eventually collapses into pure and simple mediocrity.
Bottom line, the film's lovely, somewhat definitive locations catch your eyes, while some reasonably decent performances catch some degree of your investment, or at least supplement the moderate degree of charm that almost saves the final product as decent, but can't quite fully work past the offputting unevenness in pacing and tone, expository shortcomings, histrionic superficiality and, of course, intense genericisms that make "Safe Haven" a mediocre effort that could have been decent, but ends up falling flat as forgettably trite.
2.25/5 - Mediocre