"Magic in the Water" is an optimistic title.
The discouraging truth is that those who profess a thirst for family movies should visit "Babe" or, if they can find it, "A Little Princess." Those who insist on discovering "Magic in the Water" for themselves will learn some hard lessons:
* Some actors are better-suited to the small screen.
* Some creatures are better left to the imagination.
* Some movies about children who believe in seaside magic are as haunting as "The Secret of Roan Inish" -- others just put you to sleep.
"Magic in the Water" is in the yawner category. Star Mark Harmon has a bland, sitcom-type pleasantness that gets lost on the big screen. Still, he's more believable than Orky, the movie's mysterious "sea serpent," who'll make you long for the imaginative detail of "E.T."
And, ultimately, every fantasy must adhere to its own logic, but "Magic in the Water" contains no logic whatsoever.
The first part of the film holds promise, but the movie quickly drowns in inertia. Divorced dad and ultra-hip Seattle radio psychologist Dr. Jack Black (Mr. Harmon) takes his two kids, cynical Josh (Joshua Jackson) and impressionable Ashley (Sarah Wayne), to a summer resort. But, like most movie psychologists, Dad's a dolt; he's so self-absorbed that he pays more attention to his cellular phones than to his kids.
Fortunately, there's a local legend to inspect. A monster named Orky supposedly dwells in the resort's lake and inhabits human psyches. Ashley, who sees the good even in a sea serpent, starts leaving Oreo cookies near the lake and discovers them neatly returned with the cream licked out of their centers.
Orky then does the kids the greatest possible favor: He has a close encounter with Dr. Jack and turns him from a cold workaholic to a loving if slightly daft dad.
But the intuitive Ashley senses Orky is in ill health and hopes for a miracle. Here, the movie turns completely fanciful, but director and co-screenwriter Rick Stevenson lacks the consistency and imagination to make the viewer as susceptible to magic as Ashley is.
Harley Jane Kozak does her customary surrogate-mom routine as a local psychiatrist who holds group therapy sessions for people who think they've seen Orky.
"Magic in the Water" is harmless, which is the nicest thing that can be said for it.
'Magic in the Water'
Starring Mark Harmon, Harley Jane Kozak
Directed by Rick Stevenson
Released by Tri-Star
Rated PG (children in peril, mildly blue language)