"Damage," is an unexpected disappointment, since it has been talked up over the past couple of weeks as one of the best films in current release.

This tale of sexual obsession is a dim-witted, overbaked concoction that is really little more than a gussied-up soap opera — the second such melodrama to star Jeremy Irons in the past couple of weeks (the first being "Waterland").

The story casts Irons as a respected member of British Parliament, shown to be a stereotypically repressed member of English society, who has never been able to demonstrate much affection to his children or his stiff-upper-lip wife (Miranda Richardson, who is very good here but very different from her characters in "Enchanted April" and "The Crying Game").

At a social gathering, Irons meets the French girlfriend (Juliette Binoche) of his son (Rupert Graves) and it's lust at first sight. They begin meeting for passionate afternoons and evenings, though both realize the relationship is about as high risk as it can get. And eventually, when Graves and Binoche announce their engagement, it's an obvious signal to the doom they have been self-destructively pursuing.

Though much of "Damage" is interesting, thanks to the initial believability Irons and Binoche are able to lend to the proceedings, the finale is a sappy nonconclusion that undermines everything that has gone before by refusing to deal with the issues raised here.

Louis Malle ("Au Revoir Les Enfants," "Atlantic City," "My Dinner With Andre"), directing a screenplay by David Hare ("Plen-ty," "Wetherby"), helps the audience suspend disbelief as the film plays to audience expectations about the English and French.

But ultimately the story begins to unravel — and the ending finishes it all off in a very unsatisfactory manner.

"Damage" is, of course, rated R for considerable sex and nudity, along with some profanity and violence.