[Screen It]

(2008) (Diane Lane, Richard Gere) (PG-13)

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Drama: A separated mother contemplating her failed marriage and a surgeon on a personal mission end up staying in the same oceanfront house and develop feelings for each other while dealing with their own issues.
Adrienne Willis (DIANE LANE) is a former artist turned housewife and mother to moody teenager Amanda (MAE WHITMAN) and her 10-year-old brother Danny (CHARLIE TAHAN). Adrienne has faced several setbacks in the past year, most notably the death of her father, as well as her husband, Jack (CHRISTOPHER MELONI), moving out and leaving her for another woman.

Now, just as Adrienne is headed for the coastal town of Rodanthe, North Carolina to run an inn for her friend Jean (VIOLA DAVIS) who's going on vacation, Jack informs Adrienne that he made a mistake and wants to move back home. She tells him she'll think about it and then sets out for the shore where she meets the inn's lone guest, Dr. Paul Flanner (RICHARD GERE), a surgeon from Raleigh.

Before heading overseas to find and return his estranged adult doctor son, Mark (JAMES FRANCO), Paul has arrived in Rodanthe to meet Robert Torrelson (SCOTT GLENN), the husband of one of his patients who died during surgery. As he tries to deal with that and all of its repercussions, and Adrienne tries to figure out what to do with her marriage, the two end up befriending and eventually falling for each other.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Upon simply hearing the title "Nights in Rodanthe," it wouldn't be surprising that some might confuse that for a middle-ages or fantasy based film "Knights in Rodan Thee" along the lines of "Lord of the Rings" or King Arthur. From the simple sound of it, the title does give off the vibe of clashing battles and gallant and brave medieval soldiers in shining armor saving damsels in distress.

After all, few people who've never traveled to North Carolina's Outer Banks (OBX to those in the know or with a penchant for those rear window vehicle stickers) realize it's a small town located north of Cape Hatteras and south of the Oregon Inlet Bridge. But no, this isn't a tale of the Crusades storming early America, but is rather yet another adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel.

And while there are battles (of the emotional, familial and legal kind) as well as a damsel in distress who finds her white knight (who also needs saving from his own demons), there isn't much here for male viewers save for earning brownie points for tagging or being dragged along to see this "chick flick" that's squarely aimed at middle-aged women and/or suckers for highly polished soap opera melodrama.

Granted, if that's not your thing (which holds true for yours truly), at least it's pretty to look at, from the lovely seaside setting to the to-die-for oceanfront house and the attractive leads in the form of Diane Lane and Richard Gere. Fans with shorter memories will recall that the two appeared together in "Unfaithful," while those who go back a ways will remember them in 1984's "The Cotton Club."

The two could play these sorts of roles in their sleep and that may just be the pic's biggest problem. Since it's fueled by what's really just a glorified Lifetime TV plot filled with loss, second chances, heartbreak, romance and damaged characters, we need the latter to pop off the screen in some way to make this offering stand out from the crowd. At least the previous Sparks' adaptation, 2004's "The Notebook," had the dual time line thing going for it to keep things somewhat interesting, if disjointed and episodic in terms of forward dramatic momentum.

Unfortunately, while their performances are generally okay, the chemistry between the leads is only lukewarm, feels manufactured rather than naturally occurring, and is missing the spark to give this little romance (sorry, couldn't resist for you Lane fans) some much needed, middle-aged sex appeal.

I've always been a big fan of Lane (stemming back from my adolescent crush on her following her first film), but she looks bored here, and her recent admission that she's tired of these sorts of roles seems written all over her face. I imagine her next step will be into some sort of meaty TV series role, much like Glenn Close and others of her ilk have done of recent.

The truest performance comes from Scott Glenn as a grieving widower who simply wants his late wife's surgeon (that being Gee's character) to understand his loss. The emotions are heartfelt and true, and one only wishes the rest of the film had that sort of honesty rather than feeling fairly contrived.

Yet, the latter adjective is pretty much the name of the game in Ann Peacock and John Romano's adaptation of Sparks' source novel (that I haven't read, but assume is pretty much of the same nature). That ranges from the circumstances of getting the main characters together to their big romantic moment (during a raging tropical system, no less), and a late in the game addition (a subplot featuring James Franco) to how everything ultimately wraps up.

When the latter mercifully hits the screen (featuring, of all things, a bevy of horses but nary a knight in sight), many ladies will likely be choking back the sobs and dabbing their moist eyes while their male counterparts will likely be rolling theirs when not attempting to stymie the gag reflex. Yes, that's just the way the sexes are wired, and while not everyone will obviously respond that way (as the effect might be reversed in some), the vast majority will.

I love the Outer Banks and romance (in fact, my wife and I got engaged there many sunrises ago and still vacation there every year), but sadly I just couldn't fall in love with "Nights in Rodanthe." It rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed August 28, 2008 / Posted September 26, 2008

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