Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Movies: Lady in the Water

• Try not to drown in the dialogue as you watch M. Night's latest.

Genre: Fantasy, thriller
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Verdict: &&1/2

If The Village disappointed you — it did me somewhat, although I still enjoyed it and watched it twice — you might want to steer clear of Lady in the Water, which, it should be noted, is completely twist-free. That's fine; I understand that all of the M. Night movies can't depend on a secret of the bone-rattling Sixth Sense variety, but it has felt like the modern Hitchcock is trying too hard with The Village and, now, Lady in the Water. I truly admire what he set out to do in Lady, and the narrated and illustrated introduction sets up an intriguing premise. In a nutshell, Story (an ashen Bryce Dallas Howard, currently M. Night's leading lady of choice) is a sort of nymph who emerges from the swimming pool of an apartment complex and into the life of stuttering caretaker Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti, who, for my money, brings nothing special to this role). She must make contact with a special person living in this complex; then, she needs the guardian, healer and guild to help her make it back to her watery world. Sound crazy? Wait till you hear the endless dialogue about scrunts, narfs and other fantasy babble. Too conveniently, an Asian resident heard tale of such things as a child and feeds Heep the essential details. The movie makes good used of its quirky characters as Heep tries to determine who fits those roles — healer, guardian and guild. Wolf-like creatures with grassy backs provide some jump scares, but there's nothing more than that in the way of chills. Even if you buy into the premise, it's hard not to find much of this slow, ponderous and awkward. With The Sixth Sense and Signs, M. Night earned a lifetime pass in my book, even if it seems he's slipping below the water line at the moment.

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