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IN SHORT: Confusing as all get out. [Rated PG-13 for some frightening sequences. 120 minutes]
That we expect M. Night Shyamalan to drop a big surprise and plot twist in all of his movies has become, as we expressed in previous reviews, a monkey on his back. That monkey has been banished in his latest endeavor, Lady in the Water, which keeps the supernatural environment we expect and buries it in more laughs than we've gotten from all of Shyamalan's previous movies, combined. That's a good thing. Actually, that's about the only good thing about Lady in the Water. It's an incredibly funny movie. As funny as its story is impenetrable and our feeling about that was confirmed over and over again by the folks sitting in the row behind Cranky, muttering amongst themselves "I have no idea what is going on" or "Do you know what's going on?"
A big problem is that writer/producer/director M. Night Shyamalan does it all himself. That means no one catches what we'll call minor glitches, and the whole story rests on one of these "glitches" so the background comes first. Stuttering nebbish Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) is the Superintendent at an apartment complex called The Cove. Its filled with many interesting, shall we say "unusual" characters like Reggie (Freddy Rodriguez), who is a body builder working only one side of his body and Vick, a writer who hasn't written a thing in six months but who is told that his current project will bring great change (of a good sort) to the Universe.
Why he believes that story, told by a character named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard), is just something you have to believe. Story saved Cleveland from certain drowning in the complex pool and, though she doesn't live in the complex, she cannot leave because of this big wolf like thing that has appeared, seemingly intent on hunting her down. You should also know that there are a pair of stories tossed at you as the film begins that seem nothing more than set up. They're not but haphazard delivery will do that.
Which brings us to the word "NARF". When the word "narf" becomes so important to the story that its earlier use is referenced in later dialog, we sat there wondering "Who said 'narf' and when?" Part of that is easy to answer and the rest of it, like many clever characters introduced in the first act entertains without adding anything to the story. Yeah, we know it's supposed to be background color. It takes up way more than background space, which may be fine for an ordinary drama but not for what we expect from Night. As we wrote, monkey. "Narf" leads to an old Chinese woman who tells the kind of bedtime fable one tells to children, to our favorite nebbish. To this point, our audience was still laughing pretty well and the story didn't seem any more important than any other less-important thing we'd been introduced to. Wrong.
Lady in the Water is based on the kind of bedtime fable one M. Night told to his children. As one who has also made up stories for kidlets, the form of this one is familiar: a story is started. It continues night after night and is made up from whole cloth. As a bunch of pieces it makes no sense but as a whole, let's just say as long as the end is happy, the story is said to work. Be glad there are plenty of laughs in the first act because act two is downright confusing -- even more confusing than the first act -- and act three adds the horror we expect, before devolving into something just as confusing as all that had come before.
Oh, wait, we forgot to mention the new kid in the complex, film critic Harry Farber (Bob Balaban) who exists to allow Shyamalan to poke fun at any critic that has done him wrong. As written, all made up as he goes along.
There's a coherent story here somewhere. It is definitely in the mind of M. Night Shyamalan but he gets only one view from your Cranky. He's made a film that is perfect for rental, because you'll need the multiple views to figure out what is going on.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Lady in the Water, he would have paid . . .
Rent. Watch a zillion times. You'll need to.
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