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3 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Nights In Rodanthe
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Where's Dutch Schultz And His Meat Fork When You Need Them?"
1 stars

“Nights in Rodanthe” is the latest big screen adaptation of the sub-Erich Segal stylings of best-selling hack Nicholas Sparks, who was also responsible for such cloying crapola as “Message in a Bottle, “ “A Walk to Remember” and the monstrous “The Notebook.,“ and as cheesy, hollow and grossly manipulative as those films were, they have nothing on this monstrosity. This is a film that is so much hopelessly romantic as it is hopeless--the kind of gooey glop that squanders the presence of two hugely likable movie stars so thoroughly that even those moviegoers who are predisposed to this kind of mawkish storytelling (i.e. those whose hackles were raised when I referred to “Message in a Bottle,” “A Walk to Remember” and “The Notebook” as crapola a couple of sentences ago) may find a bit too much to swallow.

Diane Lane, continuing the string of presumably financially lucrative but dramatically bankrupt roles that began when she made her long-awaited return to the Hollywood A-list after the surprise success of 2002’s “Unfaithful,” stars as Adrienne Willis, a foxy-but-downtrodden middle-aged woman whose current existence is in a state of flux--her elder daughter (Mae Whitman) is at the age where she resents her for practically every breath she draws, her younger son (Charlie Tahan) is an adorable asthmatic whose lungs are a ticking time bomb waiting to go off the moment the story needs a cheap dramatic device and her wayward husband (Christopher Meloni), who recently abandoned his family to run off with a younger woman, suddenly announces that he wants to come back home and start things anew. Luckily, Adrienne is also a bit of a pushover, so when he sassy black best friend/repository of sage wisdom Jean (Viola Davis) asks her to come up to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and take care of her seaside inn for the weekend--a weekend that will apparently be featuring both a massive hurricane and only one guest booking--Adrienne readily agrees to place herself in to middle of mortal danger so that she sort out her personal problems in a scenic locale suitable for long montage sequences that can be scored to some lilting ballad about breathing in order to create a commercial that will play perfectly during the season premiere of “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Luckily for her, that sole guest turns out to be hot-shot plastic surgeon Dr. Paul Flanner (Gere), a wavy-haired hunk who acts standoffish at first but who then moves his dinner from the empty dining room to the cozy kitchen where Adrienne is eating because he doesn’t want to eat by himself. Before long, we discover that Paul has turned up in the middle of a hurricane zone in order to resolve a personal trauma of his own involving a local man (Scott Glenn) whose wife he kinda sorta killed on the table after operating on her for about six seconds, an Ex-Lax-smooth move that earned him a malpractice suit from the grieving widower and the scornful reproach of his own son (James France), who immediately skipped off to South America in order to open a medical clinic and show his old man a thing or two about being noble and junk. Belatedly realizing that maybe he didn’t handle things ideally, Paul has finally decided to take responsibility for his actions by finally getting in touch with the widower before jetting down to South America to work at the humble clinic alongside his son.

Over the next couple of days, it slowly begins to dawn Adrienne and Paul that they are perfect for each other (a fact that we in the audience have already gleaned from the fact that this is the third film to feature Gere and Lane as a couple, after the vastly superior “The Cotton Club” and the reasonably superior “Unfaithful”) but every time they seem ready to accept that fact and take the next step, something crops up and gets in the way of their potential happiness--Paul blows his first attempt at apologizing to the old widower by missing the answer to the question “Do you know what color my wife’s eyes were?“ (the correct answer being “What are you--an insecure college girl on her third date? I was too busy looking at the color of her flatline”) and the lungs of Adrienne’s asthmatic son go off as the result of her husband’s inattentiveness. However, once the massive hurricane finally (finally!) hits, the flooded rooms, shattered gas and open sever lines act as a natural aphrodisiac and the two of them finally hit the sheets. After one more day of giddy bliss, including a post-storm crab boil and dancing to music that even Norah Jones might find to be a little whispery for its own good , the two are forced to part ways--she to settle things with her faithless husband and obnoxious brat of a daughter and he off to South America to settle things with his son and touch natives with his stethoscope--but promise to write each other for the next few months until the glorious day when they can finally be reunited and begin their glorious new life together. Of course, if you are at all familiar with the work of Nicholas Sparks, you can probably figure out that the happy couple won’t be picking out china patterns anytime soon.

At this point, there are probably a lot of people out there who are irate over the fact that I could possibly have anything mean to say about a film like “Nights at Rodanthe” and if they had any working knowledge of the history of Hollywood, they might suggest that the film is essentially a modern-day version of the tear-jerkers that filmmakers like Douglas Sirk used to crank out in the 1950’s that all the auteurists rave about these days. To that, I would respond that while such comparisons might work on a shallow surface level, to compare dross like this to such masterpieces as “All That Heaven Allows,” “Written in the Wind” or “Imitation of Life” just because they are both romantic melodramas would be like comparing “Smokey and the Bandit Part II” to “Two For the Road” because both featuring squabbling couples trying to deal with their relationship while on a car trip. For starters, Sirk’s films usually made sure to inject a little bit of humor and style into the pathos in order to demonstrate that viewers weren’t supposed to take the lurid plot developments that seriously while “Rodanthe” is so serious-minded about telling its essentially silly story that it begins to feel a little suffocating after a while. At the same time, Sirk also used these soapy melodramas as a vehicle for surreptitiously dealing with controversial subject matter (such as race, gender and sexuality) that American films at the time simply were not allowed to touch in a more straightforward manner. By comparison, this film feels like one of those ultra-square tear-jerkers that Sirk was quietly rebelling against--from the soupy score to the over-the-top symbolism to the lone black person in the story being someone who exists only to supply some sassy advice to the heroine, this is a film that feels exactly like a product of the 1950’s and in this particular case, that is not a compliment.

However, what annoyed me the most about “Nights in Rodanthe”--and by extension all of the films inspired by the works of Nicholas Sparks--is the tone of emotional fascism that runs through them thanks to the overly manipulative way in which it tries to inspire tears from audiences with all the subtlety of someone sucker-punching a bunny rabbit. Sure, the Sirk movies were manipulative as well, but they were done in such a skilled manner that you never quite realized just how completely you were being manipulated until the film was all over. Here, director George C. Wolfe lays things on so thick in his attempts to move us that it feels a little insulting that he believes we need so much prodding in order to feel something. Then there is tragic finale, a moment that might have had a little more impact if it hadn’t been pretty much the same ending that every Sparks adaptation to date has had--a key character passes away in an unexpected manner and those left behind are left to tearfully come to terms with what has happened in order to move on with their own lives. While this conceit has never really worked in those other Sparks adaptations, it really doesn’t work here because it tries to stretch the moment out a little too long for its own good to the point where many audience members will be impatiently waiting for the death to finally occur. To make matters worse, when the details of what exactly happened are finally revealed, I fear that they will only inspire helpless giggles in most viewers.

In essence, what “Nights in Rodanthe” does for romantic melodramas is pretty much the same thing that the new iteration of “At the Movies” does for film review shows--it offers up a hollow simulacrum of the elements that go into such a thing without any real idea of how they are actually supposed to work. Of course, “Nights in Rodanthe” has better casting in its two central roles but Gere and Lane are so completely wasted (especially when you consider the roll that Gere has been on thanks to his invigorating work in “The Hoax” and “The Hunting Party”) that they could have been replaced with the SAG equivalent of the two Bens and it hardly would have made a lick of difference in the end. The late film critic Gene Siskel famously had an acid test by which he measured most movies--was the film that he was watching as interesting as a documentary of the stars sitting around and having lunch? In this case, not only does it fail to measure up to the idea of watching Richard Gere and Diane Lane eating lunch for 90 minutes, it isn’t even as entertaining as the idea of watching those two stars losing that very same lunch for 90 minutes, no doubt after getting their first look at the final product.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17087&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/26/08 00:00:00
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User Comments

6/25/19 Suzanne I'd watch Richard Gere read the phone book. 4 stars
11/09/10 the dork knight zzzzzzzzzzzzz 2 stars
11/23/08 Shaun Wallner Fell asleep to this one. 1 stars
10/01/08 Anne My tears were from uncontrollable laughter. 1 stars
9/28/08 Gloria Dornin a great pair to star in this film. liked it 4 stars
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  26-Sep-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 10-Feb-2009


  DVD: 10-Feb-2009

Directed by
  George C. Wolfe

Written by
  Ann Peacock
  John Romano

  Richard Gere
  Diane Lane
  Scott Glenn
  Christopher Meloni
  Viola Davis

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