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Featured Review: Lady in the Water 

Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan gave us The Sixth Sense, the finely crafted spook tale that really wasn’t anything special until that whopper of a twist ending elevated it to blockbuster and Oscar nom status. But with each subsequent picture, Shyamalan has exposed himself as a filmmaker of limited means: The Sixth Sense was better than Unbreakable, which was better than Signs, which was better than The Village, which was better than his latest, Lady In the Water. If this pattern of diminishing returns continues, Shyamalan may soon be reduced to trying to revive the long dormant Police Academy series. For now, though, we’re stuck with Lady In the Water, which was originally conceived by the auteur as a bedtime story for his daughters. It’s a lovely sentiment and, as fairy tale fodder for the small fry to lull them off to Lalaland, it works just fine. But as a major motion picture aimed at adult and teen audiences, it’s a mess, at once ridiculous and risible. Set in a Philadelphia apartment complex, the picture centers on superintendent Cleveland Heep (dependable Paul Giamatti) and the strange occurrences that take place after he discovers a sea nymph living in the building’s swimming pool. No, it’s not Darryl Hannah; instead, it’s Story (The Village’s Bryce Dallas Howard, required to do nothing but blink those saucer eyes in an attempt to look ethereal), who explains that she comes from The Blue World, a place full of mythical creatures who seek to reunite humankind with its more gentle side. These beings are called Narfs, and their sworn enemies are the vicious Scrunts, wolf-like creatures whose grassy-green fur makes it look like they could easily be vanquished with a dependable lawn mower. George Lucas received flack for the retarded names he and his kids dreamed up for the characters in the more recent Star Wars trilogy (Count Dooku, Elan Sleazebaggano, and so on), and Shyamalan’s choices are just as eyebrow-raising. As for the various creature designations, wondering if any of them had any basis in actual mythology, I conducted an Internet search. It appears all did spring from the mind of Shyamalan, though two of the words do pop up in the Urban Dictionary. “Narf” appears to have accumulated a dozen meanings (one online example: “I narfed a huge pair of knockers”), while the definitions of “scrunt” are so nasty I won’t repeat them here. Like I noted, Shyamalan obviously made up this word on his own; otherwise, he’s one sick pup.

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