The Painted Veil

Rated 3.0

(Ends Sun., March 25) While deceptive appearances and muddled motives are very much to the point in this adaptation of an old W. Somerset Maugham novel, this oddly ambitious mixture of large and rather conventional emotions with small, fleeting, offbeat insights succeeds rather erratically, at best. Edward Norton and Naomi Watts bring deflected allure and a brave sort of restraint to the central characters, Walter and Kitty Fane, a pair of mismatched, newlywed Brits doing medical/missionary work in the turmoil of China, circa 1925. Their impulsively conceived marriage seems doomed from the start, but neither, as it turns out, will be easily brought down by their respective delusions and disillusionments. A certain slow-to-emerge moral and emotional resourcefulness is the most interesting thing about these two and their story. But that discovery develops so gradually and in such sidelong fashion that you might not cop to it until very late in the action, or maybe even not at all