Not enough Sparks make for an average romance

Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel make for an attractive couple in the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation.
Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel make for an attractive couple in the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation.

Safe Haven (M)

ANOTHER year, another Nicholas Sparks adaptation.

So goes a viable affirmation; the latest story to present itself in cinemas is his eighth.

Sparks has a good ratio - about one film to every two books, so he's not complaining.

But those who are looking for romantic fare with a bit of difference might be.

Sparks' stories predominantly revolve around a fundamental of the romance genre; a central female character with a past (or present) she wants to keep to herself.

She can't get close to a male though, because heaven forbid, she might fall deeply in love with them.

Sleepy towns have that effect on these girls because there's not all that much else to do.

Yes, it's romantic, often for its idyllic scenery (as seen here), but there's romance to be found in big cities just as well.

The world we live in holds all different kinds of paradise.

For this story, the former comes to be the preference for Katie (Julianne Hough), on the run from Boston police and finding herself in Southport, North Carolina.

On her decision to stay and start with a clean slate, she meets Alex (Josh Duhamel), that male she's not meant to get close to.

As we know, life happens.

He's got kids Lexie (Mimi Kirkland) and Josh (Noah Lomax) but finds a spark (no pun intended) with Katie, the first since his wife died from cancer.

There's some flirtatious banter here and there, and it takes a while, but they get there.

It's amazing what a small town can do for a person's complexion.

Even the children are extremely tanned in this look at a potentially perfect romance.

But even that can't stop the bad guy from his efforts to find her, officer Tierney (Aussie David Lyons) exhaustive in his efforts to find Katie.

Swede Lasse Hallstrom is not a stranger to romance, and particularly Nicholas Sparks.

This is his second turn at adapting the authors' work after 2010's Dear John, and he continues the melodramatic trend that embodies this growing group of films.

Sparks himself would have a bit to say on that, having started Nicholas Sparks Productions and finally taken one of the many producers' chairs.

For fans of this film group, it should serve as well as any other.

But the film is fraught with similarities that show more of a desire to play it safe than a confidence in making something unique.

Perhaps that's the nature of these films, but recycled ideas don't stay fresh.

Hough tones it down after performance-heavy turns in Rock of Ages and the Footloose remake, but can't completely shake off the cutesy-pie American honey act.

That describes the character of Katie though, a girl whose head is strong but still very fragile from her past.

For Leslie Bohem and Dana Stevens, a typical Sparks-friendly script is not inspired material.

Ultimately there's one twist too many as a poor effort tries to evoke emotion but instead produces quite the anti-climactic finale - something fast becoming a motif of the Sparks adaptations.

Rating: 2.5/5

Now screening at Reading Cinemas


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