As Isak Dinesen observed, "The cure for anything is salt water -- sweat, tears or the sea." There's plenty of each in "Nights in Rodanthe," a labored middlebrow romance set on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
In need of a getaway from her crumbling marriage and increasingly combative teen daughter, Adrienne Willis (Diane Lane) volunteers to look after a friend's seaside inn for a few days at the end of the season. With a big storm on the way, there's only one guest expected, Dr. Paul Flanner (Richard Gere). When the handsome, brooding surgeon discloses his own emotional crises, the stage is set for touchy-feely dialogue, mild sensuality and painful ickiness.
Easing oneself into a warm bath of sentimentality might be exactly what the film's target audience of discontented homemakers wants, yet the pure-souled lovers are dreadful bores. The film's central idea is that there's an Act 2 in everyone's life, but Adrienne and Paul, while likable, are not the stuff of compelling drama. They're too safe, too conventional to command our interest. They aren't characters, much less humans -- they're literary conceits.
Lane is an old hand at playing worldly women with a neglected passionate side, and Gere can do this kind of solemnly sensitive role while napping. The desire that's meant to pull the characters out of their emotional funk never flares, alas; it scarcely smolders. Gere and Lane simply stare at each other with wet, dark eyes. They're so tender and gentle that director George C. Wolfe, a first-time moviemaker recruited from Broadway, employs wild horses, gale-banging shutters and slashing rain to represent the story's missing erotic energy.
There's a quality of staginess to the beachfront inn, clearly built for us about a week before the actors arrived, and the flux of events has a paint-by-numbers inevitability. The story needs rage and poetry and red-blooded sensuality, and we get respectable stodginess.