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What Lies Beneath

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: What Lies Beneath

Starring: Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 130 Minutes
Release Date: July 2000
Genres: Horror, Suspense

*Also starring: Wendy Crewson, Joe Morton, Amber Valletta, James Remar, Rachel Singer

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Horror stories and ghostly tales have generally been the province of the teen audience and twenty-somethings, although there's nothing that bars the older crowd from enjoying parodies like the "Scream" series and parodies of parodies like "Scary Movie." When a film goes off the wall like "Alien" and "From Dust Till Dawn," conjuring up the ugliest monsters that the special effects departments savor, I think the film studios accurately write off any possibility of attracting people of a certain age. This is why "What Lies Beneath" should be (but alas, is not) an occasion for rejoicing. Here is a specter-driven tale which, if told to adults sitting around a campfire during a warm and cloudless summer eve at the beach could conceivably arouse their trepidation. But when put on a screen by the accomplished director Robert Zemeckis--known for a cross- genre competence in such movies as "Forrest Gump," "Used Cars," "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," and "Back to the Future"--the overlong piece goes off in all directions needlessly, confusing the audience without handing us a villain who is at all believable.

I think the reason for the farrago is that Zemeckis--who tries to give cinematic life to Clark Gregg's screenplay (based on a story by Sarah Kernochan and Mr. Gregg)--is that the entire tale depends on a single major twist that arrives only toward the conclusion of the enterprise, after which the slowly-paced story picks up the momentum and strives for blockbusting sheer fright that the audience rightfully expects of the genre. Were it not for the importance of this gimmick, Zemeckis could have more adequately developed the various relationships he struggles to define, thereby avoiding the unwanted audience laughter that the conclusion will likely provoke.

In referring to Norman Spencer (Harrison Ford), a celebrated biologist who is the son of an even more acclaimed man in the field, the studio tagline states, "He was the perfect husband until his one mistake followed them home." Norman's error in judgment is not one which is altogether unusual in real life, but in his unique case, his lapse in judgment leads to a series of spooky events in the rambling Vermont home that he inherited from his dad and shares with his lovely wife, Claire (Michelle Pfeiffer). Since this is presumably an adult ghost story, the occurrences that begin to drive Claire to the brink of insanity are subtle ones, and Zemeckis restrains himself from introducing anything too blatant and sophomoric, holding even the obligatory false scares to a minimum. At first, Claire notices that the front door opens even so slightly just before she gets a chance to insert the key. As the story progresses, the eerie phenomenona become less insinuated and more obtrusive: the note on the mirror; the reflection in the bathtub water; the tentative and fearful growling of their dog Cooper; the appearance of steam that emanates from the bathtub and spreads ever so lightly throughout the house. When the Spencers' computer begins rapidly delivering a repetitive message and Alan Silvestri's original music becomes increasingly meddlesome, Zemeckis crosses the border into kid-stuff territory. From that point, "What Lies Beneath" becomes more like the proverbial roller-coaster ride that no longer scares even the small fry. And how many adults do you know that want to spend any time on dizzying Coney Island outings?

If you've been listening the buzz about the film, you'll inevitably hear comparisons made to Adrian Lyne's groundbreaking 1987 film, "Fatal Attraction." Remember, though, that the Michael Douglas-Glenn Close-Anne Archer piece gained its just reputation on a careful development of Douglas's relationship with the sexy but psychotic Glenn Close. Both "Fatal Attraction" and "What Lies Beneath" give the audience the Rambo-like conclusion that pleases the thrill-seekers, but lacking an intricately developed and well- focussed script, Zemeckis's picture cannot hold a candle to Lyne's.

Arthur Schmidt edits the film competently, cutting from scene to fragmented scene to give the picture a vague sense of continuity and photographer Don Burgess takes good advantage of the lovely Vermont landscape, the sort of panorama that arouses the envy of apartment dwellers in the big city (but might bore them after a week or so). Harrison Ford displays his signature smirk when gazing at the beautiful but increasingly panicked Michelle Pfeiffer. But when Pfeiffer in one scene turns on Ford in an emulation of rough sex, you can't help thinking how much better Glenn Close would be in the same setting and how Michael Douglas would have been the finer choice in this cast.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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