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'Haven' another Sparks adaptation playing it too safe

| Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 7:24 p.m.

REVIEW

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 sweetly 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.”

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 reads this helpfulness Yankee-wrong.

Katie learns to spear-fish flounder, to cope with critters in the shack she rents in the woods and to 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.

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.

It's a movie for people who nod their heads at the revelation that “Life is full of second chances.” There's tragedy and heartbreak, in the past and possibly in the future, and a story that involves no heavy lifting. That's a formula that's made Sparks rich. But some of us want more from our big-screen romances.

Roger Moore is a film critic for McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers.

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