October 12, 2008

Gere’s Factory-Built Saga is a Bit Too in Love With Itself

By Demetrios Matheou

Nights in Rodanthe George C Wolfe 97 MINS, PG Mirrors Alexandre Aja 110 MINS, 15 Mutant Chronicles Simon Hunter 111 MINS, 18

Richard Gere and Diane Lane first co-starred together in 1984, in Francis Ford Coppola's The Cotton Club. This was in the actor's heyday, the period of American Gigolo, when Gere's narcissism was at its most unrestrained, and its most interesting. No leading man has been so unconcerned whether we liked him or not. And it did the trick: we couldn't take our eyes off him. As for the film, like much of Coppola's work it was troubled in the making, in execution flawed, ambitious, innately cinematic.

Nowadays, of course, Gere, right, has become, to his detriment, "likeable". And his latest venture with Lane, Nights in Purgatory - sorry, Nights in Rodanthe - is the polar opposite of The Cotton Club: factory-built, smooth, smug. It is a painfully bad film, all the worse for assuming it has us hook, line and sinker, while peddling a compendium of Mills & Boon cliches.

He plays a surgeon troubled by a malpractice suit, she is a wronged wife, the pair meet in a storm-lashed beach hotel and fall in love while Hurricane Hoary beats at their door.

Before the love letters read in endless voiceover, however, there is one real moment. Scott Glenn, as the husband of the woman who died on Gere's table, speaks, fondly, about his wife. There is no emoting, no presumption of our sympathy, and the scene is genuinely moving. A year before The Cotton Club, Glenn - not a star, always an actor - was playing an astronaut in The Right Stuff. He's still got it.

In Mirrors, Kiefer Sutherland plays a law enforcement officer in the doghouse, who is estranged from his wife, has hit the bottle and insists, in that Zen garden-gravel voice of his, that "I need you to trust me". That may sound familiar, but anyone who's been hooked on Sutherland's career-making TV role should stop right there. This is not 24: The Movie, though the actor will certainly have problems shaking off Jack Bauer if he keeps playing characters like the ex- cop protagonist of this horror tale. It's about demons lurking within an old building's mirrored interior, and it's daft enough without the feeling that Bauer is about to jump from the glass and save the day.

The film is directed by Frenchman Alexandre Aja, whose Switchblade Romance was original and scary; his remake of The Hills Have Eyes wholly repulsive. This is closer to the former, at least in intent, with a genuine, sporadically successful attempt to chill rather than shock.

There's the basis for a post-Terminator sci-fi classic in Mutant Chronicles, in its marvellous, retro-futuristic production design and sepia-tinged photography that evoke the grimness of war. Sadly, like most films based on role-playing games, its tale of a guerrilla fight-back against cyborg colonisers is too thin on plot, too heavy on gory violence, and has a laughably poor script. "The absence of gravity interferes with my digestion," sighs a comically solemn John Malkovich, explaining why he can't escape the planet. Just saying those lines would cause wind.

(c) 2008 Independent on Sunday, The. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.