Tag Archives: D

SAFE HAVEN

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Two master manipulators, writer-producer Nicholas Sparks and director Lasse Hallstrom, have joined forces to adapt Sparks’s “Safe Haven” for the big screen, but the Lifetime-quality woman-in-distress movie proves thin gruel indeed, even for aficionados of such stuff. The combination of turgid treacle and bonehead mystery culminates in a concluding twist of such complete goofiness that you almost have to admire the utterly shameless tugging at the heartstrings—almost, but not quite.

The story begins when a young Boston woman (Julianne Hough) boards an Atlanta-bound bus despite the determined pursuit of police detective Tierney (David Lyons). Flashbacks reveal that she bolted from a house, leaving behind a man’s body on the floor. Arriving in sleepy Southport, North Carolina, she decides to stay, taking a waitress job at a local eatery run by Maddie (Robin Mullins) and turning a remote, run-down cabin into home. She also meets handsome store owner Alex (Josh Duhamel), a widower raising two young kids, adorable little Lexie (Mimi Kirkland) and her older brother Josh (Noah Lomax), who’s finding it hard to deal with his mother’s death.

Though the woman, who takes the name Katie, bonds with Lexie, she initially resists Alex’s considerable charms, but that doesn’t last long. Soon they’re spending a good deal of time together, usually in icky montages set to bad pop tunes, though the original score by Deborah Lurie is no less schmaltzy. She even spends a day with him and the kids on the beach, bonding in ultra-cutesy style.

Of course the idyll can’t last, because, as periodic inserts show, Tierney is becoming ever more crazed trying to track the woman down, virtually terrorizing her elderly Boston neighbor for information and issuing warrants for her arrest on charges of first-degree murder. The reason why he’s so personally invested in the case is eventually revealed in flashback, but the plot takes the obligatory turn for the worse, romance-wise, when Alex notices one of Tierney’s wanted posters at the local police station, though the cops—dense, as usual—have overlooked it.

Throughout the picture there are references to a big Fourth of July fireworks exhibition that Alex regularly stages—and so it hardly will come as a surprise that the final confrontation occurs during it. It’s a pretty ugly business, involving both child endangerment and violence against women, which Hallstrom choreographs chaotically (if you want to see how this kind of thing can be done with style, check out the finale of Brian De Palma’s “Blow Out”). But to make amends he adds a coda centering on Katie’s only neighbor, Jo (Cobie Smulders), that takes the movie to new heights of absurdity.

The leads are photogenic—Duhamel sensitive and handsome, Hough petite and vulnerable. But both have what are essentially soap opera roles to play, and can’t get beyond what’s typical of that genre. Lyons, on the other hand, is stuck with a completely thankless part, and responds with a performance so over-the-top that it grows not only wearisome but faintly ridiculous. The kids are likable, but Hallstrom exploits Kirkland’s scene-stealing potential so ruthlessly that the result is slightly unseemly. The supporting cast is no more than fair, though to be just, none of their characters rise above stock.

Technically “Safe Harbor” is merely okay, with Terry Stacey’s cinematography often seeming murky and unfocused, especially in crowd scenes and cramped interiors. That might, however, be the result of the location shoot, which allows for some attractive backgrounds but also brings some difficulty for the crew.

Guys who are dragged to “Safe Haven” by their wives or girlfriends might consider their alternatives, even on Valentines Day, and try to sneak into the auditorium where less of a thorough chick-flick is showing instead.

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD

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Nobody goes to a movie in this franchise expecting an exercise in intelligence, but even the most die-hard fans will have a difficult time swallowing the fifth entry in the series, which falls into the depths of dumbness at the very start and goes downhill from there. “A Good Day to Die Hard” would be an excellent place to put a period to the whole business. That might not be possible, however, since the movie appears to be a set-up for John McClane to pass the torch to the next generation.

Skip Woods’ script starts without much ado, reintroducing John (Bruce Willis) at a police gun range, looker older but as dour as ever. He’s got reason to be depressed, though, because his estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney) has been arrested in Moscow for shooting a bigwig in a nightclub, and is scheduled for trial along with imprisoned billionaire Komarov (Sebastian Koch), in whose name he claims to have killed the man. Under prodding from his daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he decides to travel to Russia to reconnect with the boy and see if he can help.

That’s when the action kicks in and the picture becomes an almost non-stop cascade of car chases, gun battles, explosions and other CGI-dominated action sequences. (It does pause at one point for an obligatory heart-to-heart between father and son, but that’s brief and perfunctory. It’s their common physical exertions that bring them together again.) First up is the bombing of the Moscow court house, followed by a pursuit through the streets of Moscow that appears to leave a good portion of the city in rubble and—if the massive crashes are any indication—lots of innocent bystanders dead or seriously injured.

There follows a gun battle at a CIA not-so-safe house presided over by Collins (Cole Hauser, an actor whose very presence indicates a disaster in the making), because it turns out that Jack’s actually an Agency operative tasked with liberating Komarov, who’s believed to have damning information against one Chagarin (Sergey Kolesnikov), a corrupt guy who’s in line to become Russian’s Defense Chief. (How exactly Jack intended to spring Komarov is left unclear.) Then comes a foot chase and a confrontation with Chagarin’s nasty henchman Alik (Rasha Bukvic) in a plush penthouse dining-room, which involves not only multitudinous assault weapons but a helicopter gun-ship—as well as the first of several double-crosses (oh, those awful Russkies!).

John and Jack somehow survive the mayhem and find their way to Chernobyl, no less, where they must again face apparently insurmountable odds to foil a dastardly plot to steal great gobs of weapons-grade uranium. Again, many guns as well as that helicopter are part of the mix, and residual radiation as well. Guess who survives.

It’s not easy to keep track of the plot’s supposedly surprising turns when all the noise—bolstered still further by the near-constant strains of Marco Beltrami’s bombastic score—is pulverizing your brain. Suffice it to say that it isn’t the level of excitement that increases along the way as much as the overall ridiculousness. By starting out at so high a pitch and then trying to outdo itself at every step, “A Good Day to Die Hard” becomes more and more absurd, and in the process increasingly dull. It barely lasts ninety minutes but feels at least twice that.

By now Willis’ demeanor of bored nonchalance has become a tired cliché, and Woods hasn’t provided him with any clever repartee, being satisfied to offer recycled bits from previous installments and repetitive complaints about his ruined “vacation” (even though the trip has hardly been portrayed as such). Courtney, who’s apparently been picked to take up the McClane mantle, makes a colorless debut as Jack, looking a bit like a young Dwayne Johnson and exhibiting about as much thespian ability. The villains are all standard-issue Russian caricatures, and Winstead is completely wasted in a throwaway part—this is macho stuff, pure and simple, and even the single female member among the Russkies turns out to be a Natasha Fatale type.

The movie is competently enough made for the most part, though the massive amounts of computer-generated material means that visual realism is in short supply, and in the few intimate scenes cinematographer Jonathan Sela, presumably acting under instruction from director John Moore, indulges in the sort of jittery hand-held camerawork that’s intended to keep the viewer on edge but will more likely invite nausea. The result is not an attractive package, though some of the location exteriors of Moscow early on are at least interesting.

“A Good Day to Die Hard” is being released on Valentine’s Day. If that’s intended as a commentary on the holiday, it’s the best joke the movie has to offer.