With Valentine’s Day falling on a Thursday this year, the typical Friday release date is being bumped up a day for audiences looking for a way to spend the holiday—whether they’re on a date or not. Two major releases this week target those looking for a love story, while a third…well, let’s just say that if you prefer explosions to romance, there’s something for you, too.
First up is the latest adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, Safe Haven. The story this time around focuses on a woman named Katie (Julianne Hough), whose arrival in a small North Carolina town draws the attention of sexy widower/father of two Alex (Josh Duhamel). What Alex doesn’t know is that Katie’s on the run from a dark past, one that will eventually catch up to her.
In other words, Safe Haven isn’t too far removed from (ahem) The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, Message in a Bottle, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John, The Lucky One, or The Last Song. Yes, all of these films are based on Nicholas Sparks books, and while the settings and time periods may change (slightly), they all more or less follow the same formula. It’s one that occasionally works brilliantly—The Notebook is still used as the first piece of evidence of Ryan Gosling’s sexiness, after all—but after so many iterations of the same basic themes, there’s only so much new audiences can expect. Hough and Duhamel both provide serviceable performances for the film (Hough is definitely a step up from Miley Cyrus), but audiences may be better off rewatching The Notebook.
For younger audiences, Warner Bros. is hoping to attract young adult readers with the newest film based on a supernatural teen-lit series, Beautiful Creatures. The story centers around the romance between Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), a small-town boy wanting desperately to escape to a bigger world, and new girl in town Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), a Caster (essentially a witch) struggling with a process that will determine if her powers will be used for Light or Dark.
Look: I get that studios feel they’ve tapped into a goldmine of material in the teen-lit market, thanks to the film success of Twilight and The Hunger Games (along with small-screen successes The Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl). Watching Beautiful Creatures, though, I hope that the studio isn’t banking on huge successes for this series. As much fun as it is to bash the Twilight series, at least the films are so bad that they’re fun to watch. By comparison, Beautiful Creatures is largely boring. If you think Kristen Stewart was boring, you’ll want to avoid Alice Englert’s performance here. And while Alden Ehrenreich comes across better, I do have to say that his Southern accent is too stereotypically thick to be believable. The film’s saving grace comes from a well-picked supporting cast, which includes Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, Emmy Rossum and Viola Davis. Still, I wouldn’t hold my breath for this series to be the next Hunger Games. Not by a long shot.
Finally, for audiences looking for a little more bang for their bucks, there’s the latest in the increasingly implausible Die Hard series, A Good Day to Die Hard. Bruce Willis returns as John McClain for a film that drops him in the middle of Russia with his estranged son Jack, a highly-trained CIA operative, as they attempt to stop a nuclear weapons heist.
I’d say more about the plot of the film, but that would be putting in more effort than the filmmakers did. How little does story matter in this film? For starters, this film is just barely over an hour and a half, at least half an hour shorter than each of the previous entries in this series. The semblance of a plot that’s present is basically there to serve as setups for the next over-the-top action sequence. And while some of the sequences are admittedly fairly entertaining (the car chase in Moscow is pretty damn entertaining), not even Bruce Willis’ relentless charm can save this film from being anything other than a colossal disappointment. One thing Die Hard fans will appreciate, at least—unlike 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard, A Good Day… is rated R, which means the language returns in all its glory.