Hoping to re-bottle the lightning captured in "The Notebook" and "Dear John," romance packager Nicholas Sparks has given his usual formula some sharp edges in "Safe Haven." The film, which stars Julianne Hough as a woman on the run from a troubled past, opens like a gritty thriller, complete with furtive looks from under a hoodie, a taut chase through a crowded bus station and a few smidgens of blood.
Soon enough Hough’s character, Katie, has fetched up in the quaint North Carolina town of Southport, where Sparks’ seductive fantasy of self-reinvention takes place. Quiet and wary, Katie still has elbows sharp enough to keep curious neighbors at bay, at least until an appealing widower named Alex (Josh Duhamel) manages to charm his way past her chilly reserve.
Directed by "Dear John’s" Lasse Hallstrom, "Safe Haven" doesn’t come close to generating the sparks that made Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling such breakout stars in "The Notebook." Hough and Duhamel are attractive enough and they possess an unforced ease when they’re together, but their chance encounters and cautious romantic toe-dipping add up to little more than a pretty bore. When a figure from Katie’s past shows up, "Safe Haven" takes on the menacing contours of a slightly safer "Cape Fear."
Once Katie’s worlds collide, though, the film descends into maudlin melodrama, which in turn slides into utter ridiculousness with a preposterous plot twist. (PG-13, 115 minutes)
— Ann Hornaday, Washington Post
It’s easy to try to force "Beautiful Creatures," the film based on the young romance novel of the same name, into the same pigeonhole as other stories about teens — one mortal, the other supernatural. That’s unfair.
While the film includes the basic elements that have been used in everything from "Twilight" to "Harry Potter," they take on a fresh look through some interesting writing, a handful of fascinating characters and a pair of young lovers who look emotionally awake.
Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) and Lena (Alice Englert) are star-cursed lovers. He’s a likable high school student who dreams of leaving his small Southern town for a better life; she’s a witch who in a few days will turn toward the light or dark. The pair have just a few days to find a way to make sure Lena doesn’t go all Wicked Witch of the West during the town’s big Civil War re-enactment. Ethan doesn’t care that one of her potential futures is evil — he just knows that he likes the quirky new kid in town.
Although Englert’s performance at times smacks of indifference, Ehrenreich brings enough energy for the pair. There’s a sweet determination in his efforts to win Lena’s heart that makes the romance work.
Left on their own, "Beautiful Creatures" would have just been an average teen romance. The movie gets elevated by a supporting cast topped by Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons. The much-heralded actors bring a depth to every scene — particularly when they’re together — that’s rich, textured and brilliant enough to cover up anyone else’s flaws.
Director Richard LaGravenese is smart enough not to rely too heavily on computer-generated effects to create creepy moments, but does have a slight bit of trouble establishing an even tone. He slip-slides between a typical teen romance and a tale of terror mixed with dashes of Tim Burton-ish whimsy.
At first glance, "Beautiful Creatures" may look like a typical supernatural teen tale of love, and in many ways that’s a fair assessment. But at its heart, there’s plenty of wicked wit to go along with the wicked witches to give it a little more movie magic. (PG-13, 124 minutes)
— Rick Bentley, Fresno Bee