The Duchess (PG-13)
Keira Knightley plays a young woman marries an older, colder duke (Ralph Fiennes) who wants nothing from her but a male heir. Welcome to the land of corsets and wigs and British accents, but The Duchess, based on the true story of "celebrity" duchess Georgiana Spencer, is no stereotypically stodgy period costume drama, what with all the illicit sex that eventually goes on. But this is not trashy soap fun like this year's earlier (and more entertaining) The Other Boleyn Girl but something more akin to a romance novel, and so it's a bit of a problem for director Saul Dibb when Knightley and Dominic Cooper, as her character's true love, don't ever generate much in the way of chemistry. But Knightley delivers a solid turn (even if she again falls into her habit of talking through clenched teeth), and Fiennes, as always, milks the slimy bastard character for whatever it's worth.
Ghost Town (PG-13)
The trailers for and basic premise of Ghost Town make it look rather horrifying: after briefly dying during a surgical procedure, a surly dentist (Ricky Gervais) starts seeing dead people, in particular a ghost played by Greg Kinnear. The entire film is a lot more enjoyable than it should be thanks to the priceless comic timing and delivery skills of Gervais, but that's not to say the film actually works, for writer-director David Koepp has no real feel for romantic whimsy, best displayed by his casting the leading lady part with an abrasive Téa Leoni, who displays negligible comfort, much less spark, with Gervais. Saturday Night Live's Kristen Wiig has a couple of killer scenes with Gervais as his less-than-competent surgeon, and makes one wonder how much more amusing the film would've been had she been the female lead.
Nights in Rodanthe (PG-13)
What is it with Richard Gere/Diane Lane movies that compel screenwriters to cook up the most laughably inane lines of dialogue? After the immortal "Your eyes are amazing; you should never shut them--not even at night" in Unfaithful comes this doozy in Nights in Rodanthe: "It's beautiful here, but it's nothing compared to the peaks and valleys of your body." But that big laugh is more or less the one memorable thing about this otherwise routine and bland Nicholas Sparks adaptation, which has Gere and Lane as two wounded souls who find true love and their true selves during one eventful weekend. Lane and director George C. Wolfe do her damndest to wring something true out of the contrived, wholly predictable material (this being based on a novel by Sparks--he reponsible for A Walk to Remember, Message in a Bottle, and one actually good film, The Notebook--tragedy is a basic requirement), but the development of the relationship between her character and Gere's (dull as usual when playing a straight-arrow role) is never convincing as written, and so it's really difficult to care what happens to either of them, much less as a pair.
The Women (PG-13)
The first thought walking out of The Women is "This is the movie Diane English fought to get made the last 15 years?" The second thought is "No wonder it took that long to get it made." In fact if it weren't for the scourge known as Sex and the City, most likely this thoroughly tedious chick flick remake would still be in development hell. While there obviously has been some updating done to the original 1930s play and film, English simply trades any outdated notions for contemporary cliché: many a cocktail is imbibed; a woman's ultimate realization of independence comes by having her design her own haute couture fashion show (complete not only with split screens, but split screens framed as film negatives); the climactic mad-dash-to-the-hospital childbirth scene that oh so conveniently coincides with a pivotal confrontation by phone. A stellar cast is lost playing types, not character: harsh power suited career woman (Annette Bening, in the film's most entertaining turn; she needs to do more comedy); the fertile Earth mother (Debra Messing, whose big scene plays like a Will & Grace outtake); the gum popping, leather-jacket-and-wife-beater-clad lesbian (Jada Pinkett Smith, completely wasted in the name of killing two tokens with one stone); and a botoxed- and collagen'ed-to-distraction Meg Ryan as the wife scorned by the other woman (Eva Mendes, looking great as ever but given as little material to work with as she is clothing). Too tame for Sex and the City zealots and trying too hard to be "modern" and "hip" to win over the Mamma Mia! camp, this year's box office bonanza for chick flicks will come to a screeching halt here.