[Whisper] I see dead people. Oh wait, no. [Whisper] I see bad movie.
If "Lady in the Water" is a clear indicator of what M. Night Shyamalan's new movie is about, then "Man Struggling to Keep His Head Above Water" would best describe the state of his career.
The suspense thriller about mystical water nymphs and surly grass wolves is intended to deliver some scares, but this may be the first time I was actually obliged to laugh in a horror movie. The characters were dull. The dialogue bordered on ridiculous. The plot was about as stable as a chocolate tea kettle. And the fact that I and every other poor soul in the theater dropped eight bucks to be subjected to two hours of torture should qualify as a capital offense, in my opinion.
Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti), a kindly, stuttering landlord stumbles upon a pale, naked, long-locked Ron Howard in the apartment swimming pool late one night (actually, it's Ron Howard's daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard, but who can tell the difference?). Cleveland soon discovers from his Asian tenants that what he thought was an unruly curfew breaker is actually a water nymph from a fairytale world.
As if that wasn't enough to swallow, Shyamalan adds some bizarre, fabricated vocabulary to the dialogue, J.K. Rowling style. Allow me to simplify it for you: Narfs are nymphs from a whimsical Blue World who come to the water's surface-which apparently takes the form of a grungy, chlorinated pool- to inspire little people to do great things. M. Night Shyamalan himself plays the part of the said little person (Uh-hem...).
Scrunts are red-eyed wolves made of Astro-turf that stalk narfs and try to prevent them from fulfilling their duties. There to assist the narfs are their helpers - the healer, the guild, the symbolist and the guardian - who also happen to be completely unaware that they are so.
Once the narf has enlightened her target, a big eagle, called an Eatlon, will swoop from the sky and carry the narf back to her world. All the while, evil vine monkeys lurk in the treetops above, waiting to devour unruly scrunts. Oh, and apparently prophesies can be acquired from sugar cereal boxes.
Shyamalan feebly attempts to create a modern myth with his latest disappointment "Lady in the Water." Yet the only mythological insight one can gain from this film is that Shyamalan is like a new-age Icarus, his pride so strong that he had the impudence to release a movie about pool mermaids and killer Chia Pets. And sadly, it looks as if he and his strange ideas will plummet to the realm of one-hit wonders, where he and those like him must soak in a cleansing bath of humility before earning a right to a box office comeback.
Where does he get off thinking that he can write, direct and star in his own films, anyway? His character in "Lady" is a jaded writer whose work, unbeknownst to him, will become the catalyst for great change in the world. Wishful thinking, Mr. Shyamalan.
It appears that the director is in a creative rut from which his only recourse is to follow the exact same paradigm as his successful films of yore. Each of his plots involves a collision of diametrically opposed realities: the living with the dead ("The Sixth Sense"), the terrestrial with the extra-terrestrial ("Signs"), the past with the present ("The Village") and now fantasy with reality ("Lady in the Water").
Critics and film buffs alike glorify him for his ability to pack powerful twists into his endings, but this one was about as offensively stupid as some of George W. Bush's vocabulary. And at least that's moderately entertaining. His once bankable formula for cinematic success-a narrative dipped in supernatural fodder plus unforeseen climax equals widespread critical acclaim-seems to have failed him.
"Lady in the Water" is about as deep as the shallow end of the kiddie pool, with the actors themselves struggling to keep a straight face as the plot unfurls into silliness and tedium.
The only one who managed to succeed was Howard, who, if not for a few blinks and couple of monotone utterances, could have passed for a corpse. Her performance was as blank as the stare she sported, frame after mind-numbing frame, which begs the question: why would Shyamalan insert two of "The Village's" most ill-fated characters-Howard as the helpless damsel and a digitally enhanced ball of bristly fur as the big, bad wolf-at the heart of a story that he audaciously believes to be worthy of our time and money?
As the quiet, heartbroken superintendent, Paul Giamatti breathes a much-needed degree of pathos into "Lady," but no matter how phenomenal his acting, he could not plug the gaps that pocked the incoherent plot. Through him, we learn that no matter how devoid of purpose one's life may seem, all humans are special. Sounds more like something out of an episode of "Barney and Friends" than a major motion picture. If this is the bedtime story Shyamalan tucked his cherubs in to at night, I shutter to think what neuroses await them in the future.
"Lady in the Water" drowns in a large mess of ill-conceived ideas that neither relate as whole nor make sense on their own. Here's hoping that messianic eagles do exist that they might take the narfs, scrunts, guilds and guardians back to coo-coo land from whence they came. And take Shyamalan with them.