“Safe Harbor” is exactly what it purports to be — a haven of feel-good sentiments amid an onslaught of real-world bad news. A sound vehicle whose solid cast and based-on-real-life morality keep it afloat, this Hallmark Channel movie ultimately works, even if the characterizations don’t always hold water.
Treat Williams and Nancy Travis star as Doug and Robbie Smith, a well-to-do couple about to embark on their long-planned retirement boating trip, only to have the rug pulled out from under them. It isn’t the stock market that has robbed them of their vacation plans, but rather a family friend, Judge Roberts (Orson Bean), desperate to save a couple of juvenile cases from adult lock up. The judge asks the couple to host Luke (Reiley McClendon) and David (“Frozen River’s” Charlie McDermott) on their houseboat until room opens up for the kids at the juvenile-detention facility. The boys’ infractions are relatively minor and lock-up in an adult facility would prove disastrous.
Robbie and Doug reluctantly agree, and a third boy, Billy (Sam Jones III), is delivered as well. Without any kind of plan or handbook, Doug puts his merchant marine experience to work and has the boys swabbing the deck and learning to sail. Luke is a slacker, but is soon motivated to impress the local girls with his newfound harbor skills while Billy’s just content to have a safe place to stay after years of abuse.
David is fairly agreeable, but, after his mother’s drunken visit to the marina, he lashes out and destroys property. The
wealthy marina community is none too happy to have delinquents in their midst, and social services, alerted by David’s mother, complain of inadequate lodging and unsafe conditions for the boys.
Despite initial setbacks, Robbie and Doug establish a secure environment for these kids to step back from their problems and take responsibility for their actions. When they realize how much the boys brighten their lives, they try to convince the court to keep their newfound arrangement in place.
An homage to the real Safe Harbor program in Jacksonville, Florida, Josef Anderson’s script plays like an extended do-gooder feature that closes the nightly newscast. Obstacles and resistance are too easily overcome, and Robbie and Doug seem to have unending resources and patience. Conversely, the snotty marina folks come off like stock villains, softened only by an act of courage by the boys. The local social worker is also vilified, shown here as so embittered by the system that she delights in the prospect of Robbie and Doug’s failure, even if it’s at the expense of the greater good.
Still, what the film lacks in realistic secondary characterizations, director Jerry Jameson makes up for in inspiration, in a film that suggests unexpected change can bring equally unexpected opportunity — lofty ideas that Williams and Travis manage to make believable.