The celebrated theater director and playwright George C. Wolfe has spearheaded some dazzlingly cinematic works for the stage, including the musicals "Jelly's Last Jam" and "Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk" -- fluid, provocative, terrific shows. Now in his feature film directorial debut, Wolfe has brought in 'da hunk of cheese known as "Nights in Rodanthe." And the comparative savvy Wolfe showed in HBO's stage-to-TV transfer of "Lackawanna Blues" has gone missing.
To be fair, the material is something that got spritzed out of a can all over the paperback bestseller lists. The feather-light romance by novelist Nicholas Sparks ("Message in a Bottle," "The Notebook"), adapted by Ann Peacock and John Romano, is designed to attract good-looking film actors of a certain age. All the better if they can act! Or even interact. Diane Lane can, and does. Richard Gere -- sometimes. As skillful and charismatic as Gere is, I never get the sense he's really in there, conversing with his fellow actor. He seems most at home when he can revert to nonverbal, emotionally wounded reaction shots: hurt look, followed by glance away, followed by lip quiver, or defensive, squinty smile.
Lane, like Gere and every other actor on the planet, has her own habits to guard against. She does a lot -- too much, sometimes -- from the neck up. But in the last few years, especially since "Unfaithful," which also costarred Gere, she has grown into a formidable presence, sensual, complicated but not vampy. Way back in "The Cotton Club," she and Gere were stuck playing arch jazz babies, and they couldn't seem to fill out their roles in an easy way. In "Nights in Rodanthe," at least, they do.