Fine performances can't disguise the fact that this three-hankie weeper, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks (THE NOTEBOOK, A WALK TO REMEMBER, MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE), is a shameless puddle of romantic slop.
Suburban housewife Adrienne Willis (Diane Lane) is having a miserable year: Her husband, Jack (Christopher Meloni), left her for another woman seven months ago; her rebellious teenager, Amanda (Mae Whitman), treats her with thinly disguised contempt; and she's just lost her beloved father. So Adrienne is eagerly anticipating some alone time while Jack takes Amanda and her younger brother, Danny (Charlie Tahan), on an Orlando vacation. Granted, she did agree to look after the picturesque beachfront bed and breakfast her best friend Jean (Viola Davis, all sassy talk and down-home wisdom) inherited from her granny. But it's in Adrienne's North Carolina hometown, Rodanthe, a place filled with happy memories, and there's only one weekend guest; she'll have plenty of time to think things over. Then Jack arrives to pick up the kids and drop a bombshell: His fling didn't pan out and he wants to come home. Renowned plastic surgeon Dr. Paul Flanner (Richard Gere) is also Rodanthe bound; he hopes to straighten things out with the family of a patient who died on the table, then head to South America and effect a reconciliation with his estranged son (the uncredited James Franco). After some awkward getting-to-know-you scenes, Adrienne and Paul find they have much in common; by the time a vicious hurricane blows through, they're ready to wind up in each other's arms. But when the skies clear, they're forced to ask themselves some hard questions about what they're willing to give up for the possibility of a fresh start.
Theater-trained director George C. Wolfe, former head of New York's prestigious Public Theater isn't a natural-born filmmaker, and RODANTHE is a muddle of distracting camera movement, awkward editing and bombastic music. He knows actors, though. It's no mean feat to tease flashes of poignant regret out of Gere's cool, introspective façade, and Wolfe gives Lane and supporting player Scott Glenn, as the dead patient's grieving husband, room to dig deep into their characters' emotional turmoil in their own distinctive ways. It's just a shame the material they're working with is so painfully maudlin and cliched. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh