Dir: M Night Shayamalan.US. 2006. 110 mins.

An unusual setting,eccentric characters and a wry sense of humour partially compensate for asimplistic story and lack of mystery in M Night Shyamalan's Lady in theWater, a film that'sentertaining despite its shortcomings.

Many fans of thewriter/director's past hits will find this modernist bedtime story/New Ageyempowerment parable not as suspenseful as his career-establishing hits, as wellas lacking in their star power. But those who do go will like many of itscharacters and may appreciate its ideas about resolve and cooperation as wellas its relative lack of violence. They'll give it decent if not fantasticword-of-mouth and medium-range box-office results.

It's doubtful it can performeven as well as his last film, 2004's The Village, which grossed $256 million worldwide, 45% of itfrom the U.S. And it will finish nowhere near his biggest hits, Signs ($408 million worldwide gross in 2002) and of courseThe Sixth Sense ($673 millionworldwide take in 1999). But it won't be a disaster, either.

It doesn't help that thefilm isn't marketing its greatest strength - Paul Giamatti's quietlyauthoritative, gently humane and naturalist performance as Cleveland Heep, astuttering superintendent of a lively Philadelphia apartment complex called TheCove. Rather, Warner Bros. is pushing Bryce Dallas Howard's drippy presence asStory, a water-nymph "narf" who has wandered from the Blue World into thecomplex's ocular-shaped pool and needs help from Giamatti and his tenants toget back. The daughter of Ron Howard, she also starred in The Village.

Both the underwrittencharacter and Howard's performance are non-starters. Looking pale and forlornwith stringy wet hair, she mostly stares into the camera or sits under an apartmentshower as mere-mortal tenants try to comfort her. As these kinds of stories go,Story's relationship with Cleveland is too chaste and straightforwardlyliteral-minded. It lacks the surreal beauty of Cocteau's Beauty And TheBeast, the eroticism of CurtisHarrington's Night Tide, or thehumor of her father's Splash.

Yet Shyamalan is at his bestwith the tenants, writing both funny and serious situations and dialogue forthem and guiding his fine actors - Jeffrey Wright as a crosswordaficionado, a delightful Sarita Choudhury as a sharp-tongued Indian-Americanwoman, Cindy Cheung as a Korean-American college student, Jared Harris as a goateedsmoker lost in talk sessions with friends - toward lively yet understatedturns. About the only performance among the tenants that doesn't work isShyamalan's own painfully earnest one, as a writer whose book of politicalideas is destined to change the world.

Film buffs will especiallyget a kick out of Bob Balaban's cynical tenant Harry Farber, a film/book criticwho thinks he understands what Story needs - and by, extension, what Ladyin the Water's story needs - because he's seen so many movies."There is no originality left in the world," he opines. He's funny with greatdialogue, but he's dispensed with in a way little better than a Scary Movie joke, which undercuts the originality of thecharacter's conception and is poorly executed to boot.

Generally, Shyamalan'sdirection of everyday life in this apartment world is sharp, compassionate andcolorful, and features some surprising camera angles from imaginativecinematographer Christopher Doyle. A poolside party is especially wellchoreographed, and the dark woods just beyond the pool have a HenriRousseau-like exoticism. If only James Newton Howard's portentous score were asappropriate as Doyle's camera work.

Alas, Lady in the Water has a terrible ending that wouldn't pass muster in a1950s Japanese monster movie, and may leave younger fans full of disdain. Someotherworldly bestial creatures, which look like Industrial Light & Magicbought them at a remnant sale, do battle amid CGI effects poorly integratedinto the live action. Shyamalan should leave this stuff to Peter Jackson. Heneeds to concentrate on his stories.

Production companies
Warner Bros. Pictures, Blinding Edge Pictures,Legendary Pictures

Worldwide dist
Warner Bros

M Night Shayamalan, Sam Mercer, Jose L.Rodriguez, John Rusk

M Night Shyamalan

Christopher Doyle

Barbara Tulliver

Production design
Martin Childs

James Newton Howard

Main cast
Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard, JeffreyWright, Bob Balaban, Sarita Choudhury, Cindy Cheung, M Night Shyamalan