Nicholas Sparks and company out-Sparks themselves in their latest Valentine’s-targeted romance, “Safe Haven,” a movie that passably ambles along in generic-melodrama mode before finally insulting audience intelligence one time too many. It’s the second Sparks adaptation for Lasse Hallstrom (“Dear John”), and it’s enough to make us ask whether the “Cider House Rules” director has gone completely schmaltz-blind, or is just churning out creatively detached work for hire. If you show up here looking to relive “The Notebook,” lower your expectations to “The Lucky One” instead.
Julianne Hough (“Rock of Ages”) plays Katie, introduced in a slightly confusing one-two opener as a desperate brunette fleeing an apparent suburban domestic dispute, then as a desperate blonde barely eluding the cops at a bus terminal. (Her jumping-off point is Boston — or an unconvincing facsimile, anyway.) When her bus makes a rest stop in a sleepy town on the North Carolina coast — you know, the kind of place that’s got to send out to the Greater Wilmington metroplex for house-paint orders — she impulsively decides to stay. She swaps her fugitive’s hoodie for waitress’s short-shorts, moves into a catalog-rustic cabin, and quickly catches the eye of hunky, widowed dad Alex (Josh Duhamel). Cue rain-drenched, clingy-wardrobe canoodling.