Richard Gere and Diane Lane share <em>Nights in Rodanthe</em>.

Part of the charm of a categorically bad movie is the wonderment and perverse curiosity it can trigger. How is it possible, we keep thinking in the midst of Nights in Rodanthe, that this film has veered so far off course, bumping into laughable TV soap opera-style melodrama and hyper-strained veracity? An unintentionally funny romantic yarn, Rodanthe qualifies as one of those perplexing cinematic stinkers, made all the more frustrating because here is yet one more example of a film with Diane Lane in which the fine actress is vastly better than her material.

It’s a different story, of course, with Richard Gere, whose very presence in a film can often seem to be a jinx. Once upon a time, Gere was a promising actor of edge and depth (see such classics as Days of Heaven and Looking for Mr. Goodbar). In the last few decades, apart from exceptions like Robert Altman’s Dr. T and the Women, Gere seems stuck in a career tailspin playing over-earnest romantic interests in movies running from middling to maudlin. On that count, Nights in Rodanthe isn’t as god awful as Autumn in New York, but it comes close.

As we know full well from the movie marketing campaign, Gere and Lane are the mid lifers seeking refuge in the storm of, well, mid-life woes. Lane’s character is weathering a divorce and running an inn in the rugged continental corner of Rodanthe, North Carolina, the last holdout in the face of an oncoming storm (storms are a big metaphor here). Gere is a morally and legally challenged doctor, the only guest at the abandoned inn, and almost duty-bound to fall in love and in bed with the intrinsically attractive Lane. Along the way, and after their Rodanthe encounter, issues of moral responsibility and tangled family ties-not to mention fickle fate-dot the narrative path.

All the sentimental goop layered into the crevices of the film make Nights in Rodanthe one of those fun-to-watch bad films, a fine target for this year’s “Golden Turkey” awards. Yet we feel sorry for Lane, who rarely seems to get her casting due. Adding insult to injury, the great Emmylou Harris wrote and sang the closing song, another case of a gifted artist trapped in a stinky cage.


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