The movies based on the novels of Nicholas Sparks always emphasize the simple pleasures. A quiet locale, a leisurely stroll down the beach, a romance that doesn't begin in a bar and end in bed that same night.
Those simple pleasures are in the forefront of "Safe Haven," another sweetly treacly tale from the "beach book" author who gave us "The Notebook," "Dear John" and "The Last Song." There's another beach town - sleepy, bucolic Southport, N.C. - another pair of lovers, each with his (Josh Duhamel) or her (Julianne Hough) "big secrets." And as they court, the Nebraska native Sparks serves up more of the homey homilies he's picked up studying the South.
The girl, Katie, is on the run from Boston and the locals, especially the handsome widowed shopkeeper Alex, take an interest and try to make her fresh start work out. But Katie's misreading this helpfulness - he gives her an old bike to get to her job at the seafood joint.
"If you're goin' to live South of the Mason-Dixon line, honey, people GIVE you stuff."
Katie learns to spear-fish flounder, to cope with critters in the shack she rents in the woods and to accept those unrequested gifts.
About the beach: "Take a lot of pictures. You'll only regret the ones you didn't take."
There's an overly-nosy/ overly friendly neighbor (Cobie Smulders) and a twinkly old uncle (Red West) to prod Alex into approaching the pretty new waitress in town. And a couple of cute kids eyeball Katie, one hoping she'll replace her dead mom, the other fearing that same thing.
Director Lasse Hallstrom ("Salmon Fishing in the Yemen," "Chocolat") goes to some pains to hide each character's secrets. The Boston cop (David Lyons) obsessed with tracking down Katie uses more police work than common sense to find her, and we glimpse the late wife's attic office that Alex rarely visits.
Hallstrom and his screenwriters may be stuck with Sparks' formula, but they take advantage of the geography, the leads and a couple of homespun supporting players.
From "Message in a Bottle" to "Nights in Rodanthe," the formula has made Sparks rich. But some of us want more from our big-screen romances, especially a film released on Valentine's Day.
• Rated: PG-13, for thematic material involving threatening behavior, violence and sexuality.
• Director: Lasse Hallstrom.
• Cast: Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, Cobie Smulders, David Lyons.
• Running time: 115 minutes.