Safe Harbor

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This absorbing Hallmark Channel TV movie reveals the 1980s origins of the Safe Harbor Boys Home in Jacksonville, Fla. Doug and Robbie Smith – portrayed by Treat Williams and Nancy Travis – are preparing their boat for the retirement voyage of their dreams when Doug’s old friend, Judge Roberts (Orson Bean), shows up unannounced to ask a favor. Could they take two teenage boys aboard for a few days?

Juvenile Hall is full. If the Smiths say no to this “unofficial” arrangement, the boys will go to adult lockup. They’re not “hard cases” and will “help out around the boat for their keep,” says the judge. When two sullen boys emerge from his car, the judge is gone before Doug and Robbie catch their breath.

Luke, played by teen idol Reiley McClendon, has a short fuse that David – Charlie McDermott from the movie “Frozen River” – easily ignites. “I’ll take you to jail myself if you don’t stop fighting,” Doug declares, asking why they were busted. Luke admits he “robbed a store.” David goes for sympathy as a hungry street orphan who stole food, but Luke outs him as a computer hacker.

Work begins immediately on deck, scraping off paint; Luke naps while David scrapes. At dinner, Doug announces that Luke can begin his two hours of scraping to earn his meal.

After both boys take to sailing and flirting with the girls in the marina between chores, the judge brings a third boy, Billy, and then Larry. Doug’s system for earning privileges is working. Considered by the judge as “the best kid shrink,” Robbie is a natural at nurturing. As the boys fix up an old boat for themselves, all – except Larry – become secure enough to reveal themselves and their difficult circumstances.

Why did the judge put the Smiths on the spot? Doug finally confesses to Robbie a debt he owes to the judge. In a rescue during a storm, this new “family” earns the respect of everyone in the marina. But can they rescue themselves from Miss Rawlings, the social worker determined to tear them apart?

With grace and humor, this dramatization explores how it’s never too late to change direction, whether you’re a troubled kid or a childless retired couple. The movie’s only unfortunate note is its caricature of a bitter, manipulative social worker in the role of villain.

Extra DVD features include the Christian Broadcasting Network’s profile of the real Safe Harbor Boys Home, which has reached more than 800 boys in 25 years. Fifteen boys at a time live on and care for their own donated boats and learn to be self-sufficient. The real Doug and Robbie Smith explain how “leading the boys to Christ” is central to their mission, an element underplayed in the movie. (312) 266-9400,; public performance rights: or (800) 544-8422.