There's nothing wrong with turning to a movie once in a while just for the sake of a good cry. I admit to watching Brokeback Mountain sometimes only for the sad scenes, and watching just the wedding scene in Best Years of Our Lives for that very purpose. But a movie needs a reason to exist other than to wring tears out of overemotional people (let's face it, mostly women), and Nights in Rodanthe fails completely on that level. Taking innately charming stars Richard Gere and Diane Lane and stranding them in a glacial plot, the movie doesn't even earn the tears it's so desperate to wring out in the final scenes.
The movie mostly takes place, stagily and fussily, in a stunning oceanside cottage that is almost certainly CGI, given that it's unprotected by a sand dune or even a teeny seawall. But that doesn't stop Adrienne and Paul from holing up in it when a hurricane lurches toward the North Carolina coast. Adrienne is a stay-at-home mom recently separated from her husband (Christopher Meloni), watching the cottage for the weekend on behalf of her friend Jean (Viola Davis, mercifully steering clear of "sassy black friend" territory). Paul is a plastic surgeon from "the big city" (read: Raleigh) who is in Rodanthe for unexplained reasons, later revealed to be both predictable and maudlin.
When the storm hits Adrienne and Paul take refuge in each others' arms, in one of the few scenes of the movie with any adrenaline to it. Unfortunately the hurricane passes practically instantly, and we watch Adrienne and Paul moon over each other and recite the most inane lines of dialogue you've ever heard. The infamous animal crackers scene in Armageddon now has competition for most ridiculous comparison of a woman's body to a landscape.
Paul leaves Rodanthe to go reunite with his estranged son Mark (James Franco, uncredited) in Ecuador, while Adrienne returns home all aglow and still refusing to reunite with her husband, despite her daughter's wishes. Adrienne and Paul exchange letters, which feature even more abominable lines of dialogue, until the movie comes to the moment where your tissues are expected to be at the ready.
Director George C. Wolfe is making his feature debut here, and can be blamed a little for the stagy, trapped feel of the scenes at the beach house. But most of the blame lies with Nicholas Sparks, who wrote the novel upon which the movie is based. His novels have consistently sucked audiences into believing in a world in which all characters say their feelings right out loud and in platitudes, things like "I want you to know there's a different kind of love. One that gives you the courage to better than you are." You can almost feel Diane Lane struggling to choke the line out, not to mention the audience shouting that they are actually smarter than this. But Nicholas Sparks has made a career of talking down to his readers, and with countless more movies and books planned, he shows no signs of stopping now.