Endless soapy ‘Nights’

September 30, 2008



To call “Nights in Rodanthe” a chick-flick is an insult to chicks. And an insult to the brain – like cracking your head on the windshield in a car accident – of everyone else.

“Nights” is yet another adaptation from the literary oeuvre of Nicholas Sparks, who has become best-seller-list fodder by writing drippy novels in which two people discover each other as soulmates – and then one of them dies. “The Notebook,” “Message in a Bottle,” “A Walk to Remember”: Rumors that the books come prepackaged with pocket-sized tissue packets are unfounded.

Set on the outer banks of North Carolina, “Rodanthe” (which I believe I heard characters pronounce as “row-DAN-thee”) does raise a number of questions, the most prominent being: What the hell is a theater director of the caliber of George C. Wolfe (yes, the Tony winner who ran the Public Theater in New York and shepherded “Angels in America” to Broadway) doing within a mile of this dross? “Nights with Rodents” would probably be more interesting.

Obviously, Wolfe wasn’t there for the actors. Richard Gere and Diane Lane are the lovers who are spending those titular “Nights” together, but they seem to be adrift, left to their own devices amid the cornball melodramatics of this ridiculous film.

Lane is Adrienne, a suburban mom of two, separated from husband Christopher Meloni. He shows up to take the kids (including Goth daughter Mae Whitman) to Orlando – and tells Adrienne that he wants to come back to the marriage (despite the fact that he apparently dumped her for another woman seven months earlier). Come to Orlando with us and we’ll reconnect, he whines. But no, she says, she has a date with destiny, or something like that.

In fact, she’s headed for a deserted stretch of Outer Banks’ beach, where her BFF Jean (played by a severely underutilized Viola Davis) runs an inn. Adrienne has promised to manage the inn while Jean attends to business elsewhere. Which synchs her up perfectly for the hurricane that’s a-brewin’ – and for Jean’s last customer of the season.

The guest is Dr. Paul Flanner, played with mood-swinging incongruity by Gere. The good doctor has come to go face-to-face with the husband of one of his patients, a woman who died on the table during a bit of routine cosmetic surgery to remove a facial growth. But, as we all know, in situations like this, the doctor really needs to face himself: the way his intense dedication to his work (or is it, gasp, his career?) has cost him his marriage, his relationship with his son (an uncredited James Franco) – and, by God, his very soul.

Oh, please. You’ve got two tortured souls rattling around an incongruously isolated architectural wonder, decorated in early bohemian tchotchke splendor, forced to battle a scary hurricane (the only thing missing is Ray Bolger shouting, “It’s a twister!”). Is anyone really surprised when their souls gravitate to each other? The only thing missing is a mutual thought balloon that says, “You complete me.”

This is romance for 15-year-olds, who want to glory in the drama of their own miserable lives and bathe in their own tears at the tragic unfairness of a universe that would bring two people together only to tear them apart. Ain’t life unfair?

And isn’t Hollywood? How else to describe a poster that makes Gere look like a squinty Harrison Ford? Or that forces Lane into a nothing role like this, in which she is forced to gulp shots of Jack Daniels – and then try to be funny cleaning expired canned goods out of her friend’s pantry? Honest – that’s the film’s laugh-riot moment. (But, of course, it’s also soooo metaphorical: Emptying one’s emotional cupboard of expired feelings. Oh, that’s deep.)

Cue the string section. Then run for your life. Someone – please stop Nicholas Sparks before he writes again. And then cut off the Sparks pipeline that seems to be pumping this sludge to Hollywood.


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