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Originally published February 13, 2013 at 5:30 AM | Page modified February 14, 2013 at 2:33 PM

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‘Safe Haven’: a bewildering mess

Adapted from a Nicholas Sparks book, “Safe Haven” stars Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel in a puzzling only-in-the-movies romance.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 1.5 stars

“Safe Haven,” with Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, Cobie Smulders, David Lyons. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, from a screenplay by Dana Stevens, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks. 115 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic content including threatening behavior, and for violence and sensuality. Several theaters.

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An odd mixture of thriller and gooey romance, “Safe Haven” works best as a primer on what I’ll call Movie Behavior — things people do in the movies that you can’t ever imagine in real life. (It could be Book Behavior, as “Safe Haven” is based on a popular Nicholas Sparks novel, but in this case the book — which is very long and goes into elaborate, excruciating detail — works better, in its overwrought way, than the movie.) Very little in this movie makes any sense, even as glossy Valentine’s Day fare.

At its center is a mysterious woman named Katie — and, since this woman is perkily played by Julianne Hough, we already know we’re in trouble: Hough is a charmer but doesn’t currently have “mysterious” in her bag of tricks. Fleeing an abusive marriage (good luck trying to figure out the timeline of her flight, which the movie helpfully obscures by scattering it throughout its two hours), Katie turns up in a coastal North Carolina town. On a whim, she decides to stay, presumably because she likes the cut of local shopkeeper Alex’s jib; Alex, played by the reliably square-jawed Josh Duhamel, is a grieving widower with two picture-perfect children. He likes Katie, too, and a cute smiles-and-sunsets romance starts to blossom — except for the inconvenient fact of Katie’s cop husband, Kevin (David Lyons), a vodka-swilling monster who’d really like to track her down and kill her.

Why does the supposedly traumatized Katie rent a remote cabin in the woods, where she sleeps with the windows open? Why can’t Alex’s kid — a 10-year-old who’s supposedly grown up on the water — swim? Why is Alex’s other kid, who looks to be maybe 7, apparently managing the store? Why does Katie have so many outfits when she fled with just a small bundle? (Is she channeling Julia Roberts in “Eat, Pray, Love”?) How is it possible that Kevin is still a cop? How can this movie be a romance, when its message seems to be that it’s easy to forget abuse, almost instantly, if you breathe some sea air and meet someone who looks like a magazine cover? It’s all Movie Behavior (and I’m not even getting into the character who wandered over from “The Sixth Sense”) — pretty as a picture, easily forgotten.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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