Movies

Mattywood

Lady in the Water
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Rated PG-13

To say Lady in the Water is funnier than director M. Night Shyamalan's last movie, The Village, isn't saying much.

The Cove

Lady in the Water

From the first frames, Lady in the Water tells its ludicrous tale in a preachy tone. As the prologue explains, man was originally linked to beings living in the water. But, man being man, man went inland and eventually cut himself off from contact with the water beings.

In the process, man became a more violent creature and started fighting wars. Man, the voiceover dutifully informs, doesn't listen very well.

So the beings from the "blue world" are once again trying to reach out to poor hapless, hopeless man. And those far more sentient and peaceful beings have picked the denizens of a dive apartment complex called The Cove in beautiful Philadelphia, PA, as the point of contact.

Their target is a stuttering goob of a superintendent named Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti, Cinderella Man). It's not giving away much to say his wife and children were murdered, so he gave up his life as a doctor and retreated to the less demanding world of apartment maintenance.

The apartment complex setting provides Shyamalan with the opportunity to present a collection of oddballs, misfits, and stoners; it's the perfect multicultural melting pot. Unfortunately, no one is particularly likable.

As for the messenger, a "narf" named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard, The Village), she's a pale-skinned young lady without much to say or do except hang out in the pool and wait to be discovered. Her task is, in short, to make people realize their potential (without, by the way, knowing who those people are or what there potential is), then she has to avoid a nasty wolf-like creature while waiting for a giant eagle to pick her up and carry her back to the water.

The Cookbook

There are only two problems with Lady in the Water, but they're both enormous. One is the story, which liberally cheats on logic. The other is Shyamalan himself.

With each successive movie, Shyamalan has given himself bigger and bigger roles and, hardly coincidentally, both he and his movies have become increasingly annoying. This time, he plays a fairly major role as, of all things, a writer named Vick Ran. But, of course, Shyamalan wouldn't deign to cast himself as just any ol' writer. Oh no. He's extra special.

As fate would have it, Story can foretell the future. She says his book, quaintly called The Cookbook, which covers his thoughts about cultures and leaders, will influence some wing nut in the Midwest to become a leader and, as an added bonus, Vick will be assassinated.

Please, Shyamalan, spare us all the pomposity.

Some people have a Messiah complex and put it to work for true good. Others, like Shyamalan, put their Messiah complex to totally self-serving efforts.

In keeping with his writer fetish, the "chosen one" that will help Story escape the wolf-creature and reconnoiter with the eagle is supposed to be a writer.

The Chosen

The saving grace of this otherwise tedious piece of work is that it has a surprisingly large dose of humor, something tremendously lacking in Shyamalan's previous movies.

Also unlike his other movies, there's no surprise ending this time; the real surprise is how the entire movie is so grossly convoluted and contrived.

Perhaps as an acknowledgment of how ridiculous this tale is, which includes a young boy who unlocks the secrets of the universe by reading cereal boxes, Cleveland says, "You have to believe that this all makes sense somehow."

Yeah, right. That's quite the way to write your way out of a jam, Shyamalan.

Finding your purpose in life and your own voice is a great theme, but it's one that Paulo Coelho tackles far more successfully with his eloquent little book called The Alchemist.

Further revealing Shyamalan's tainted mindset is the casting of Bob Balaban (Capote) as a movie critic named Harry Farber. Harry does manage to get some funny lines, but he's an anal little man that Shyamalan annihilates, no doubt in retribution for the increasingly scathing reviews his movies have received over the years.

At one point Harry says, "There's no originality left in this world." That goes double for this derivative bit, which pilfers from E.T., Splash, and Cocoon in equal measure, without managing any of the uplift those movies smoothly instilled.

After Harry's statement, the movie theater is overwhelmed by the digital stereophonic sound of Shyamalan patting himself on the back.

No matter what Shyamalan stakes claim to here as being "original," it's simply not that good and it's certainly not well told. With each successive film, it's becoming quite clear that Shyamalan's voice is not worth listening to.

• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.

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