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Muddy 'Water'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The apocalypse must be near when even a mermaid movie gets a Messiah complex. The title character of Lady in the Water is a beautiful sea nymph who yearns to reawaken land folk to the forgotten hopes and wonders of life.

Sounds simple - maybe even simple-minded. But if you're not a fan of M. Night Shyamalan's convoluted, teasing thrillers, you'll find that getting into this movie is like cracking a puzzle in which the constructor keeps breaking his own rules or grabbing new ones from ultra-thin air.

Shyamalan, director of the suspense hits The Sixth Sense and Signs, goes at this fable as if it were something dreamed up during nap time at a progressive kindergarten. He calls the sea nymph (Bryce Dallas Howard) a narf, and then has the chutzpah to name this narf "Story" - as if to signal that he's making his story up as he goes along. The premise is pseudo-inspirational: The narf will find a receptive human being, a writer, here in 2006, and move this scribe to produce a book with the wisdom of the ages.

Lady in the Water ( Warner Bros.) Starring Paul Giamatti and Bryce Dallas Howard. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Rated PG-13. Time 110 minutes.

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