“There is more than one way to skin a cat” has got to be humorously posted on a some wall somewhere within the offices of Nicholas Sparks Productions.  The latest proof of this has arrived in the form of Safe Haven

In Safe Haven, Katie (Julianne Hough) is introduced frantically attempting to escape being chased down by a Boston Police Officer (David Lyons).  The mystery of the film revolves around why this chase is taking place, but of course the point of this film revolves around her somehow ending up in North Carolina with a handsome man.  “Write about where you know” has got to be humorously posted on some wall in Nicholas Sparks’s North Carolina home.    

Katie does end up in the aforementioned state in the tiny town of Sea Port.  Sea Port offers all of the necessities for Sparks to work his magic: quiet streams for canoeing, beaches with virtually no one around, general stores, rusticity, no technology, one big event (that apparently draws over 100,000 people in for a day), and a laissez faire attitude.  Predictability ensues, but not to an offensive degree. 

This is the eighth Sparks novel to get the cinematic treatment, but it may as well be the eightieth.  It rarely rises above standard TV movie production quality and offers nothing unexpected to the viewers.  What it can cash in on is the likability and chemistry between its main co-stars Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel.  I suspect that this is the main reason the film got green-lit at all.  An attempt, albeit a failed one, at adding some edge accomplishes little more than The Lucky One was able to accomplish last year.  What is surprising is that the novel does have some edgy back-story, but director Lasse Hallström and screenwriter Dana Stevens chose to downplay, simplify, and blatantly avoid these opportunities preventing this film from elevating itself above the standard warmed over genre-film that it became.  Formulas exist because they provide the framework for pleasing an audience, but unfortunately they grow tremendously stale and unsatisfying if they are not tweaked and modified from time to time.  This is a lazy movie from start to finish, and it is an apparent Valentine’s Day cash-grab at a movie hungry audience looking for a romantic film during a barren movie season.  Like most films that receive reviews like this, it will be very comforting to those who go in knowing what to expect and unappealing to everyone else.  How do you grade a film like this?  Skin the off the cat.