You know that when you get sweeping-romance novelist Nicholas Sparks (“The Notebook”) teaming up with sweeping-romance filmmaker Lasse Hallstrom (“Cider House Rules”) you’re in for some major sweeping, on par with the Sunday morning cleanup volunteers in Roppongi. The poster for “Safe Haven” promises the “L” word in full effect, with an impossibly attractive couple locking themselves in the kind of embrace that would call for an oxygen tank or a cardiologist. But wait! What you didn’t see coming is a grisly murder, a fugitive and a good dollop of deceitful betrayal designed to keep the viewer in slack-jawed suspense until the very end.
No doubt Sparks has decided to change tack here, but he seems to be out of his depth in places. Though many of his works had been tinged with elements of death or illness, “Safe Haven” feels like the plot made a hasty marriage with an FBI-related miniseries and wound up regretting the decision on the honeymoon. The central couple, Katie (Julianne Hough) and Alex (Josh Duhamel), are certainly gorgeous, but it’s hard to feel for their romance with all the bloody intrigue and suspicion going on. For those who enjoy a two-for-one deal in a single movie, “Safe Haven” may be just the thing. Personally, I opt for coherency over confusing stimulus.