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Lady in the Water
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by David Cornelius

"I think Shyamalan purposely wants us to hate him now. It works."
1 stars

Somewhere in the middle of “Lady in the Water,” M. Night Shyamalan asks us to thrill to a modern day fairy tale about Narfs and Scrunts. Not coincidentally, that’s right around the same time we as a collective public tell M. Night Shyamalan to go screw himself.

The anti-M. Night feelings have been gradually snowballing over the past few years, and for good reason: the guy can’t make a decent movie to save his life. His films are bloated, rambling, laughable exercises in ego and pretension. His “The Village” was the breaking point for many, the film that finally got plenty of folks laughing at his oh-look-how-clever-I-am seriousness instead of wowing to it.

His knee-jerk reaction to that film’s failure, apparently, seems to be his making a movie so pointless, so inaccessible, so completely inadvertently hilarious (yet so unbearably unfunny during all the “comedy” parts) that it just might ruin whatever reputation he had remaining. Ladies and gentlemen, brace yourself for “Lady in the Water.”

A Narf, writer/director/producer/actor/credit card pitchman Shyamalan tells us, is something along the lines of a mermaid with legs. If that, even - they’re apparently just people who swim a lot. Narfs live in “the Blue World,” and they sneak out through our swimming pools (chlorine does nothing to deter a Narf) on a mission to find specific humans - a job that pretty much entails just staring at them for a few seconds, which is a fairly easy mission, all things considered. A Narf’s nemesis is a Scrunt, sort of a dog-creature made of grass whose name has everyone in the audience doing a spit-take, tilting their heads to one side, and asking, “Um, it’s called a what now?”

When a Narf named Story is discovered in the pool of an apartment complex managed by a stuttering ex-doctor named Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti), it’s up to Cleveland to uncover the myths of the Narfs and Scrunts in time for Story to complete her mission and go home in the arms of a giant eagle that only comes twice during a Narf’s trip to the surface world. Naturally, Cleveland enlists the aid of an old Chinese woman with a knack for storytelling, because when you hear the words “Narf” and “Scrunt,” you automatically think of ancient Asian mythology. Using the old woman’s bedtime stories as a guide, Cleveland begins gathering up apartment residents to help fight off the Scrunt and send Story back to the Blue World.

I swear to God, I just want to punch this movie right in the face.

First off, it’s just lazy - “Cleveland Heep” is a character name that screams “oh boy howdy gee, get ready, this movie’s going to be quirky as all get out, because we got ourselves a main character goes by the name of Cleveland Heep, of all things, and don’t that just beat all!” Cleveland Heep also stutters, which is a tic given to a character when writers cannot think of any other way of making him interesting; it’s a storytelling cop-out, plain and simple. As for Cleveland Heep’s past - he used to be a doctor and is hiding out as a handyman in an attempt to forget a major tragedy in his life - it’s so undercooked it could give you worms. Shyamalan wants to give his lead character depth and pathos, but he just doesn’t do anything with what he gives us. He merely tells us in one scene that something bad happened, tosses in a reminder late in the movie (in a failed attempt at emotional heft), and calls it a day. He doesn’t want to do the work to get us to care for this Cleveland Heep fellow, so he half-asses it, and we’re left with a movie that consistently wastes the talents of an exceptional actor who’s stuck filling in too many gaps from a poorly designed screenplay.

Then again, that’s better than Shyamalan himself, who gets promoted from playing bit parts in his earlier movies to playing a major character here. If you’re a director who’s looking to cast himself as what is, essentially, the third lead, you should be sure that you can either act the hell out of anything you can write, or, barring that, have a screen presence so appealing that we can overlook your flaws. Scorsese and Tarantino aren’t terrific actors, but they’re terrific personalities, and the small roles they fill from time to time work because they’re simply fun to watch. Shyamalan, meanwhile, has all the charisma of a wet sock. He’s not particularly awful, but he’s overwhelmingly bland, one-noting his way through a role that demands more weight that what he can possibly provide.

(Of course, it doesn’t help his reputation as a rampant egotist to cast himself in the role of a man who learns he is destined to change the entire world through his writings. Tone it down, there, dumbass.)

Another character, the one that’s bound to get the most attention, is that of a movie critic (Bob Balaban) who’s so uppity, pompous, and obnoxious that one wonders if Shyamalan has started taking lessons in petty whining from Rob Schneider and Nick Swardson. Is this the filmmaker’s gut reaction to people not liking his last movie? Writing in a useless character that makes fun of movie critics? Is this Shyamalan really this much of a cry-baby?

What’s curious about the critic character, as my colleague William Goss pointed out recently during a few wow-this-movie-blows conversations, is just how much the joke fails. Here we have a parody of film critic arrogance - this is the only non-likeable character in the entire film, aggressively so; a person curt and rude who looks down on his fellow residents; a person who spends his entire time announcing his expertise in understanding storytelling and lamenting the lack of creativity in the modern world - that goes so very embarrassingly broad that the joke doesn’t just fail, it bellyflops. Especially late in the film, a scene to which the character has been building and building and building: the critic is confronted by a Scrunt, and he immediately begins talking to it, saying this is just like a horror movie, explaining why he must survive, considering the rules of horror clichés; even discounting the scene’s obvious rip-off of a similar moment in “Scream,” the joke bumbles with every breath. This sad display of almost-comedy is the best Shyamalan could do?

Interestingly enough, the critic exists merely to point out just how ordinary and predictable Shyamalan’s story is. The joke, apparently, is that Shyamalan is beating us critics to the punch. In one scene, Cleveland Heep asks the critic for help in interpreting the bedtime story in relation to the residents of the apartment complex; the critic replies that Cleveland Heep must look for people of seemingly secondary importance who have been introduced earlier. We of course then flash to the crossword wiz and the roomful of potheads whom we met in a few throwaway scenes, and the joke is, sadly: “Look! I’m following generic story conventions, but I’m telling you I’m following generic storytelling conventions, and isn’t that brilliant of me!” No, not really. In fact, Shyamalan is effectively making fun of himself by having the critic make fun of such simplicities.

Also take note: Although there is no twist ending in this Shyamalan effort - an evident attempt to remove himself from the pressures of being “Mr. Twist Ending” that led to such failures in his post-“Sixth Sense” works - there are a few “gotchas,” mainly in the “oh, we got something wrong and now we have to do it all over again, only the right way” category. What this does to the film, essentially, is take a three-minute story and stretch it out to a full 98 minutes. “Lady in the Water” is a colossal example of needless exposition. Shyamalan’s trying to build up mood, but he’s actually only boring us to tears. As there’s absolutely nothing to the story in the first place - again, despite a prologue that tells us how Narfs have this Very Special Mission that involves finding and telling important truths to humans, the actual Very Special Mission is nothing more than a ten-second staring contest, followed by some empty blabbering by M. Night himself later on - any monotony added to the film only inspires shouts of “Get on with it!” from the Peanut Gallery.

(Oddly enough, for all its slow going and doublebacking, there’s absolutely nothing here for our title character to do. She simply sits around - literally - for almost the entire picture. She’s crowded out by side characters and general plot blathering. Huh.)

It should also be mentioned that with this film, Shyamalan tries to engage in plenty of comedy - not just involving the critic. We get running gags involving the old Chinese woman (she’s hilarious because she’s Chinese! or something), Shyamalan’s character’s nagging sister, a kid who finds hidden meanings in Cap’n Crunch boxes, and, in what amounts to a distressing failed joke of mind-numbing proportions, a weirdo body builder, played by Freddy Rodriguez, who only works out the right half of his body. The joke, you see, is that here’s this guy who has one arm and one leg really, really bulked out, while the other arm and leg are normal. When you’re finished screaming at the screen with fits of “What the hell?!?!,” I’ll inform you that this is all there is to the gag. We see him many, many times, and each time, we’re asked to howl with glee at the idea of this half-man, half-hulk. His inclusion into a vital scene late in the film is a mass of confusion, played both for chuckles and thrills, failing at both. The only logical explanation I can imagine is that Shyamalan wanted to include something dumber than Narfs and Scrunts. He succeeded.

It has been said that “Lady in the Water” was based on a bedtime story Shyamalan made up for his children. By this account, it is safe to assume that Shyamalan hates his children. This is a dreadful story, a disastrous fairy tale where nothing happens, and when it does, it happens in all the wrong ways. It is an achievement of monumental stupidity, obnoxious self-importance, and shallow non-thrills (which is to say, it’s an M. Night Shyamalan film). It is a movie about Narfs and Scrunts, two words destined to become synonymous with cinematic catastrophe.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14853&reviewer=392
originally posted: 07/21/06 01:07:46
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell not bad imo 4 stars
2/06/17 Leires The movie was sitting on a TNT barrel. Love/hate stuff indeed. 3 stars
7/30/16 Jaekn Not worth the $5.00 to own in one of those superstore box deals 1 stars
3/16/16 Luisa Shyamalan needs to stop acting in his films, no onscreen charisma, it ruins the film 3 stars
5/18/14 JP Williams Standing ovation from a packed theater when my wife and I first saw this. Really enjoyable. 5 stars
3/11/14 Howard Mark Yes, I was in bed, tired as all get out, but my imagination was captured by the characters, 4 stars
7/09/13 Reptilesni Ordinary people become part of something extraordinary. I love this film. 5 stars
2/09/13 Langano If you don't take it so serious you just might enjoy the story. 4 stars
9/19/12 jenn thanks for this, my family and I love this movie. 4 stars
2/05/12 Monica S Charming, moving fairy tale . . . if you give it a chance. Wonderful acting. 4 stars
1/11/11 Perk Good movie. Very sweet fairytale. Might make u cry! Happy ending:) 5 stars
8/08/10 Eric Quite pleasant and a great deal of fun. Good work on storytelling. 4 stars
8/07/10 Bill P Surprisingly good! Great Giamatti! I've recommended it to friends. Surprised at the critic 4 stars
11/07/09 jimbob a picture for the evolved with wonderment, one of the best movies ever, you know i truth 5 stars
10/27/09 Steve I find myself watching it over and over each time it comes on. Flawed, but so enjoyable. 4 stars
6/20/09 JR Wow, so M. Night plays a gifted writer/ prophet who saves the world. My God, what an ego. 1 stars
3/16/09 :] wth...? 1 stars
3/07/09 Raul Valdez Jr not that bad 4 stars
2/20/09 ES Drew me in and kept me up late wanting to see what would happen, lots of great ideas n fun 4 stars
1/19/09 gLottis Giamatti was very genuine, and the film was enchanting 4 stars
1/12/09 Anonymous. one of the worst films i've ever seen. 1 stars
12/21/08 tain movie was interesting... best soundtrack EVER. 3 stars
12/04/08 Shaun Wallner Very Boring! 1 stars
10/22/08 Bonnie An adult fairytale to be sure, and not a bad one, but his true talet lies in scaring people 4 stars
10/13/08 g. just ok 3 stars
9/30/08 Tim Paul Giamatti's Cleveland Heep won me over as he struggled with the pain of his loss. 5 stars
9/28/08 Sean Imaginative and insightful into a fairytale. Absolutely beautiful. 4 stars
9/21/08 Callum It is a beautiful movie. A fairytale everyone should watch. 4 stars
7/24/08 Helden Multilayered & surprisingly satisfying...I enjoy every MNS film I see. 4 stars
7/24/08 jeanne Masturbatory, self-indulgent, utter bollocks! A criminal waste of Giamatti, Wright, Balaban 1 stars
6/21/08 David This film is a brilliant Myth. Dumbies don't get it. 5 stars
6/15/08 LordHat Very good. 5 stars
6/14/08 Casey When I told people who didn't like it, it was a fairytale, I saw a lightbulb go on 5 stars
6/14/08 Steph This movie could be an IQ test. The narrow-minded dim-wits will hate it. 5 stars
3/24/08 John Smith Great film, great review - (not automatically biased as so many critics are!) 5 stars
2/09/08 Deltaboy49 This film has a big, big heart and is full of wonderment 5 stars
1/11/08 pablo Much better than all that Harry Potter nonsense 3 stars
10/01/07 Rick Utter failure, nothing intriguing or new about the ideas 1 stars
8/20/07 Jubei A mess of a film.Zemeckis would've made magic with this premise.Unnerving. 1 stars
8/13/07 Claire Beautifully un-cynical 5 stars
7/06/07 me crappy movie, made no sense 1 stars
6/30/07 Danielle Ophelia I didn't hate it, but I was constantly aware of its shortcomings. 3 stars
5/08/07 Charone Easily one of the dumbest movies I've ever seen in my entire life. 1 stars
4/18/07 zenshark Don't waste your time. 2 stars
4/01/07 Quigley Giamatti is excellent; this movie is not. The opening sequence is the best part 2 stars
3/27/07 fools♫gold OthehumorofShyamalan: castinghimselfastheimportantwriter"whosewordswon'tbeunderstood4years" 3 stars
3/02/07 David Pollastrini Bryce is hot! 2 stars
2/20/07 Stu Padasso It made me believe in people again. 4 stars
2/13/07 The chode Garbage. 1 stars
1/29/07 Indrid Cold A bold, unusual idea for a major studio movie, but it ends up muddled and boring. 3 stars
1/26/07 alice oh my god, this was so boring I could see dead people ! 1 stars
1/10/07 Tracey Chambers How quickly he believes shes something other than ordinary. Turned me off. 1 stars
1/01/07 Rubye Intriguing for those with imagination and magical souls 5 stars
12/28/06 grace yost it was great, excellent will watch it again and again 5 stars
12/14/06 Donny Martwick First half had so much potental. They should of had 100 wolfs and magic powers. 2 stars
12/03/06 Mike Self-indulgent 2 stars
9/27/06 Raj Its like having E Coli for dinner. VOMIT INDUCING CRAP! 1 stars
9/26/06 Erin Amidon ET meets SPLASH and both are utterly clueless as to what to do with each other! 2 stars
9/15/06 Ben The water in my toilet looks better than this! 1 stars
9/14/06 M Night Worth 2 C Not formula mainstream flick 4 stars
9/13/06 Poonam THE WORST FILM OF THE YEAR 1 stars
9/03/06 Jenny Um - The Village was better than this movie - if that tells you anything! 2 stars
9/02/06 Dragon The Artist Not too bad, a hell of a lot better than The Village,about as medieocre as Signs 3 stars
8/30/06 Killjoy Sleep inducing movie he made for his kids and we have to endure the torture! 1 stars
8/25/06 Stanley Thai Not one of M. Night's best but still a great film. 4 stars
8/24/06 Al Guy He's getting tiring. 2 stars
8/23/06 Chad Thomas M. Night has lost his mind! 1 stars
8/21/06 G Sherfy "Tepid" is apt; the world wisens to Night's trick that he's a good direc. 1 stars
8/17/06 KAREN MATLOCK very disappointing 2 stars
8/15/06 Rohit Shocker from the guy who made 'Sixth Sense' - Night gone mental here 1 stars
8/14/06 Becca totally blew ass. cried laughing. WORST MOVIE EVERRR. 1 stars
8/10/06 michael average and wait for the DVD 4 stars
8/09/06 melivorous Great Storytelling 4 stars
8/09/06 Dragon The Artist A hell of a lot better than that everso disappionting The Villiage, thats for sure!! 4 stars
8/06/06 Roadkill Report If you notice, at least in a dozen scenes in the move you can actually see the overhead mic 1 stars
8/06/06 Erik Van Sant Somebody peed in the pool. M. Night Shama-lama-ding-dong has flown the coop. 1 stars
8/05/06 nicklor24 one of my top 10 films, original and fantastic, check it out 5 stars
8/01/06 Forderve So different and original, it's a good fairy tale with deeper meaning than most movies 5 stars
8/01/06 Caddy One of the best movies I've ever seen. Too bad people are so cynical these days. 5 stars
8/01/06 Tim in VA A dreadfully boring and possibly drug-induced cinematic excretion. Two thumbs down. 1 stars
7/31/06 Luisa Great actors...bad movie...M.Knight is only getting worse...he needs to lose the ego... 2 stars
7/30/06 Marty original concept but obvious vendetta for critics. giamatti rocked. 3 stars
7/29/06 Sano Charming, Original...I liked it as well. 4 stars
7/29/06 Troy M. Grzych Held my interest but was a bit slow. I enjoyed the ride. 4 stars
7/28/06 Bad Critic Idea (Narphs and Scrunts) was retarded... but Giamatti was typical with a great performance 3 stars
7/24/06 Ole Man Bourbon Beyond ridiculous. Superlatively horrid. Egad. 1 stars
7/24/06 moondog cliché, tired, expected... worst movie I've ever seen 1 stars
7/24/06 Mark This deserves negative stars 1 stars
7/23/06 ahnold Still imaginitive, original and entertaining. 4 stars
7/23/06 Jay Yup this movie sucked big time. Oh and the Chinese woman is actually Korean. 1 stars
7/23/06 Roy Smith It's ridiculous...and I loved it. I'm strange, so sue me. 4 stars
7/21/06 David Hollingsworth It really doesn't make sense. 2 stars
7/21/06 Nightjorn crap movie crap movie crap movie 1 stars
7/21/06 scotty great movie great movie great movie 5 stars
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  21-Jul-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 19-Dec-2006



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