Safe Haven

Directed by Lasse Hallström. Starring Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, David Lyons, Cobie Smulders, Mimi Kirkland 15A cert, general release, 115 min

Directed by Lasse Hallström. Starring Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, David Lyons, Cobie Smulders, Mimi Kirkland 15A cert, general release, 115 min

Fri, Mar 1, 2013, 00:00

Directed by Lasse Hallström. Starring Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, David Lyons, Cobie Smulders, Mimi Kirkland 15A cert, general release, 115 min

The world is, it seems, full of people who find the adaptations of Nicholas Sparks’s North Carolina melodramas comforting, moving and spirit-swelling.

It’s partly to do with the mildly twisty stories. Here Julianne Hough flees some sort of violent mayhem in the north for life as a waitress in a predictably idyllic seaside town. She makes friends with aphorism-addict Cobie Smulders and meets cute with recently bereaved dreamboat Josh Duhamel.

The main draw of Sparks’s books is, however, the absurdly archaic nature of their small-town settings. One does, occasionally, catch sight of a mobile phone or a computer. Otherwise, this strange locale looks to have remained unchanged since Eisenhower took office.

Ms Hough retires to a shack in the woods where she welcomes Smulders (now, why is nobody else ever around when the two meet?) for occasional lectures on the nature of Southern hospitality. It seems that you are expected to endure visits from meddling neighbours at any hour of the day or night. Everyone knows everybody else’s name and uses it as often as possible. There’s a hearty greeting at every corner.

For goodness sake. This is why they invented cities. The threat in Boston must be unimaginably fearsome if it persuades Hough to spend more than a minute in this ghastly, curtain-twitching, bothersome little backwater.

This is, for Sparks fans, a vision of paradise: white fences, perfect main streets, waving passers-by. To this writer, it suggests one of those evasive US TV commercials for incontinence treatments or rheumatism therapies. (Safe Haven may cause drowsiness, nausea, mood swings, heartburn and raised blood pressure.)

Anyway, Lasse Hallström directs the awful thing with his usual bland competence. Hough does a convincing impersonation of a younger, duller Leslie Ash. Smulders appears at the oddest times in the oddest places. Duhamel rubs his chin convincingly.

It ticks along in that characteristically drab Sparksian manner until – to the surprise of nobody whose read this review closely – we encounter regulation hokey twist No 456. If that’s the kind of thing you like, then you like that kind of thing.

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