There's still plenty of charm in romantically pairing Richard Gere and Diane Lane. The "Unfaithful" cast-mates can still play flirty and cute with the best of them.

And the stark, wind-swept beauty of North Carolina's Outer Banks makes a grand setting for a big-screen romance.

Ah, but the corn grows high in those sand dunes in Nicholas Sparks' "Nights in Rodanthe." The movie version of "Nights" begins with such promise before it drowns in the romance novelist's syrupy sentimentality.

Gere plays a Raleigh doctor who has just sold his home and comes to the coast for a weekend to take care of some unfinished business and boil off some anger.

Lane is Adrienne, a jilted wife who drives away from her unfaithful husband's offer to "come home" to spend that same weekend watching over an old inn in the romantically named hamlet of Rodanthe.

A storm's a-coming. The Banks are hunkering down. And they're the only two sad, lost souls at the inn. All you need is a little hurricane, a little wine, some Dinah Washington/Brooke Benton records and the Sparks sparks will fly.

As in Sparks' other filmed books — "A Walk to Remember," "The Notebook" and "Message in a Bottle" — tragedy lurks just beneath the surface. Passions simmer. Hearts are poured out in old-fashioned love letters ... or messages in a bottle.

Legendary stage director George C. Wolfe, who directed TV's "Lackawanna Blues" a few years back, adds some flavor to this whitebread meal, casting Viola Davis as the saucy, soon-to-be-absent owner of the inn, decorating it in colors and arty tchotchkes (she's an artist), making room for Dinah and Brooke on the soundtrack. Wolfe's grace notes can be seen in phone conversations shouted above the surf, in the way Lane plays the intimacy of the act of cleaning a stranger's room in a bed and breakfast.

Scott Glenn beautifully portrays an aged Outer Banker, a fisherman who is the doctor's unfinished business. Gere is nicely preserved, and no actress working today gives us more in a close-up than Lane, her face a canvas of emotions.

But eventually, we get to the Sparks speeches, Gere explaining how he wanted to be "the best doctor I could be" — uh, don't they all? — to Adrienne's instant and inappropriate psychoanalysis of the inn's lone guest.

Guilt, anger, betrayal, forgiveness, romantic longing, love won and lost, it's all here, along with a taste of Outer Banks crab-cracking (parties) and Outer Banks history — the ponies, "Teach's Light" (a ghostly glow at sunset, named for the pirate Blackbeard) and those nights, those "Nights in Rodanthe"!

It's a pity that a movie that begins with such simmering promise chills into a film of pretty people in a pretty place telling a pretty bland story.

"Nights in Rodanthe" is rated PG-13 for some sensuality. Running time: 98 minutes.