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Lady in the Water


I remember seeing LADY IN THE WATER in theatres in 2006 and being hesitant to do so, coming off of "The Sixth Sense", "Unbreakable" and "Signs" which I loved from M. Night Shyamalan and then having detested 2004's "The Village".

My hesitation turned to slumber when I fell asleep for about a half an hour out of sheer boredom.

After Shyamalan's recent resurgence with "Split" and having revisited the superb "Unbreakable", I thought I'd go back and give our aquatic woman another chance.

Shyamalan opens with an interesting graphic detailing a complicated little fairy tale in cryptic graphics, helped immensely by his long time music composer James Newton Howard, who delivers again here with an excellent score.

We then cut to apartment maintenance man Cleveland Heep, played extremely well by the always reliable Paul Giamatti (Sideways, The Illusionist).

Cleveland is a stuttering, gentle but reclusive jack-of-all-trades for the sprawling apartment complex and its bevy of stock characters.

Ominously called THE COVE, the complex is home to eccentric body builders, ponderous stoners, major film critics and the savior of the world, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Cleveland discovers a mysterious lady in the pool one night and takes her into his apartment to protect her when they are nearly attacked by a strange wolf-like creature.

She is Story, played with pale grace and gravitas by Bryce Dallas Howard in a role that will either fascinate you or make you roll your eyes.

It turns out that Story is part of a sprawling world beyond our own and that key folks in the apartment complex must all come together to help her return,

Unfortunately for us, Shyamalan piles layer upon layer upon layer onto the story, making it unnecessarily complicated. It's as if you're watching a modern take on Sleeping Beauty when the Prince has to kiss her to wake her up but every five minutes, Walt's also setting up fifteen more conditions for the Prince to the point where you just don't care anymore.

It's also one of Shyamalan's most poorly written films. It's got it's superb moments, including Cleveland's final confessional moments to Story where he unveils the personal tragedies that led him to his life at The Cove. Its a terrific scene.

But there are so many overly complex and unnecessary structure conceits. There's Bob Balaban's movie critic, who speaks aloud the very stereotypical story structure elements even as he becomes them. We have Shyamalan himself as an ordinary man apparently positioned to save the world, a role more suited to a better actor.

There's a great behind the scenes book called "The Man Who Heard Voices" by Michael Bamberger that details the making of this film. He vividly describes Shyamalan's arrogance coming off four films that together had made $1.5 billion at the box office, his unbridaled refusal to listen to any feedback on the screenplay or story and the aftermath of it underperforming at the box office, losing over $35 million of its $70+ million budget.

As one of the biggest functioning sets ever built, The Cove is a modern take on Hitchcock's "Rear Window" set, a full size building in which all the action takes place. It looks great.

The special effects are fine as well.

But all the good pieces are buried under the overly complicated mythology and ever changing rules of engagement.

Under the weight of Shyamalan's pretense, this expensive fairy tale sinks to the bottom of the pool with a C-.

Hey at least I stayed awake this time.....

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