2 1/2 (out of five stars)Director: Lasse HallstromCast: Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, Cobie Smulders, David LyonsRated: PG-13 for thematic material involving threatening behavior, violence and sexualityRunning time: 1 hour, 55 minutes
The movies based on the novels of Nicholas Sparks always emphasize the simple pleasures. A quiet locale, a leisurely stroll down the beach, a romance that doesn’t begin in a bar and end in bed that same night.
Those simple pleasures are in the forefront of “Safe Haven,” another treacly tale from the “beach book” author who gave us “The Notebook,” “Dear John” and “The Last Song.” There’s another beach town — sleepy, bucolic Southport, N.C. — another pair of lovers, each with his (Josh Duhamel) or her (Julianne Hough) “big secrets.” And as they court, the Nebraska native Sparks serves up more of the homey homilies he’s picked up, studying the South.
The girl, Katie, is on the run from Boston, and the locals, especially the handsome widowed shopkeeper Alex, take an interest and try to make her fresh start work out. But Katie’s reading this helpfulness — he gives her an old bike to get to her job at the seafood joint — all wrong.
“If you’re goin’ to live South of the Mason-Dixon line, honey, people GIVE you stuff.”
Katie learns to spear-fish flounder, cope with critters in the shack she rents in the woods and accept those unrequested gifts.
There’s an overly nosy/overly friendly neighbor (Cobie Smulders) and a twinkly old uncle (Red West) to prod Alex into approaching the pretty new waitress in town. And a couple of cute kids eyeball Katie, one hoping she’ll replace her dead mom, the other fearing that same thing.
Director Lasse Hallstrom (“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” “Chocolat”) goes to some pains to hide each character’s secrets. The Boston cop (David Lyons) obsessed with tracking down Katie uses more police work than common sense to find her, and we glimpse the late wife’s attic office that Alex rarely visits.
Hallstrom and his screenwriters may be stuck with Sparks’ formula, but they take advantage of the geography, the leads and a couple of homespun supporting players — Robin Mullins is a wonderfully folksy owner of the seaside seafood shack.
The offhandedly charming Duhamel is more seasoned and better at this sort of laid-back, slow-burn love than the still-green Hough, who seems too young for somebody with this much baggage. She is never more than adequate. Keira Knightley originally was talked up for the part, and that would have made a much more interesting couple.
Noah Lomaz (from left), Julianne Hough, Mimi Kirkland and Josh Duhamel star in “Safe Haven.”×
Julianne Hough (left) and Colbie Smulders star in “Safe Haven.”×
Novelist/producer Nicholas Sparks (left) and director Lasse Hallstrom on the set of “Safe Haven.”×
Novelist/producer Nicholas Sparks(from left) with stars Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel on the set of “Safe Haven.”×
Mimi Kirkland (from left), Josh Duhamel and Julianne Houg star in “Safe Haven.”×
Josh Duhamel (from left), Mimi Kirkland and Julianne Hough star in “Safe Haven.”×
Noah Lomax stars in “Safe Haven.”×
Mimi Kirkland (left) and Julianne Hough star in “Safe Haven.”×
Noah Lomax (left) and Josh Duhamel star in “Safe Haven.”×
Julianne Hough and David Lyons star in “Safe Haven.”×
Novelist/producer Nicholas Sparks (left) with Director Lasse Hallstrom on the set of “Safe Haven.”×
Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel star in Relativity Media’s “Safe Haven.”×
Novelist/producer Nicholas Sparks on the set of “Safe Haven.”×
Colbie Smulders (left) and Julianne Hough star in “Safe Haven.”×
Producer Marty Bowen and director Lasse Hallstrom on the set of “Safe Haven.”×
Director Lasse Hallstrom (from left), Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough on the set of “Safe Haven.”×
Cobie Smulders (left) and Julianne Hough star in “Safe Haven.”×
Julianne Hough (center) stars in “Safe Haven.”×
Stars Josh Duhamel (from left) and Julianne Hough with director Lasse Hallstrom on the set of “Safe Haven.”×
Josh Duhamel and Mimi Kirkland star in “Safe Haven.”×
Red West (left) and Josh Duhamel star in “Safe Haven.”×
Irene Ziegler and David Lyons star in “Safe Haven.”×
Mimi Kirkland stars in “Safe Haven.”×
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