By Kathy Stephenson
| The Salt Lake Tribune
When seeing a film based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, you know certain things will happen.
There will be a beautiful woman, who meets an equally handsome man, and they will become romantically involved until something tragic threatens their relationship and — well, you get the idea.
We saw it in "The Notebook," "Dear John" and now "Safe Haven."
This story begins when Katie (Julianne Hough) secretly boards a bus, obviously on the run. She gets off in Southport, a tourist town in North Carolina where she rents a small cottage, gets a waitress job at the local fish shack and avoids forming any close relationships with the locals.
But it’s a small town, so soon Katie lets down her guard, especially around Alex (Josh Duhamel), a widower who runs the town store while raising his two young children. A mysterious neighbor, Jo (Cobie Smulders), also pushes her way into Katie’s life.
Director Lasse Hallström, who has better films under his belt ("Chocolat," "Cider House Rules and "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen"), gives Sparks fans everything they want in a blossoming relationship, including a scene where Katie and Alex get caught in a rainstorm. (Hey! Isn’t that the scene from "The Notebook"?)
The relationship is threatened when Katie’s past begins to catch up with her. Through flashbacks, we learn about the harrowing experiences that forced Katie to flee, but Hough never make us feel like her character has been traumatized.
We might give the Utah native and "Dancing With the Stars" alum a pass if she and Duhamel offered some on-screen chemistry. But even that barely simmers.
For those who haven’t read the book, the movie offers a surprise twist that upped the value of this film — even though realists might call it far-fetched.
Of course, none of that chatter matters to Sparks fans. They know what they’re getting into and they won’t be disappointed.