FILM REVIEW: Safe Haven (12A)

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Author Nicholas Sparks is the king of slushy modern romance, tugging heartstrings with his emotionally wrought tales of love lost and found.

His books are a perfect fit for Hollywood and thus far, seven of his heart-tugging tomes have been adapted for the big screen, beginning in 1999 with Message In A Bottle starring Kevin Costner and Robin Wright.

More recently, Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams set hearts aflutter in The Notebook, Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried nurtured amour in a time of war in Dear John, and Zac Efron showed a sensitive side and his abs to Taylor Schilling in The Lucky One.

Safe Haven adds a touch of suspense to the usual gooey mix, opening with a distraught wife, Erin Tierney (Julianne Hough), fleeing the scene of a crime - perhaps murder, perhaps self-defence.

The terrified spouse seeks refuge with a kind neighbour, Mrs Feldman (Irene Ziegler).

She helps Erin to change her hair colour before the wife heads to the bus station with detective Kevin Tierney (David Lyons) in hot pursuit.

In one of the film’s best scenes, Erin boards a bus bounds for Atlanta and narrowly avoids capture.

She travels far away from her troubled past and hopes to throw the cops off her scent by alighting early in the quaint fishing community of Southport, North Carolina.

In this picture-postcard idyll, Erin rechristens herself Katie Feldman and lands a job as a waitress at the local seafood restaurant.

She also secures lodgings in a remote cabin in the woods, and enjoys a flirtation with hunky widower Alex Wheatley (Josh Duhamel), who is coming to terms with his wife’s death while raising two demanding children, Josh (Noah Lomax) and Lexi (Mimi Kirkland).

Perhaps Katie could be his second chance at happiness...

Unfortunately, Tierney won’t rest until he has found Erin, and against the advice of his superiors, he bends the law to search for clues to her whereabouts.

Drawing obvious comparisons with the 1991 Julia Roberts pot-boiler Sleeping With The Enemy, Safe Haven is undemanding fluff that doesn’t stray once from a well-trodden narrative path.

Hallstrom, who directed Dear John, is in familiar, syrupy territory and provides the usual array of longing glances between the attractive leads and a dreamy canoe ride in a rainstorm that kindles their first kiss.

Hough is luminous and there’s pleasing screen chemistry with Duhamel.

However, the shifts in gear between this fairytale coupling and Tierney’s inevitable arrival in Southport to expose Katie as a fraud are jarring, necessitating an overblown climactic set-piece involving all of the pivotal characters.

A revelation about Katie’s meek neighbour, Jo (Cobie Smulders), beggars belief and inspires unintended snorts of derision as Deborah Lurie’s soundtrack swells to emphasise the magic of this ridiculous moment.

:: SWEARING :: SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 5/10

Released: March 1 (UK & Ireland), 115 mins)