The Movie that Cries Wolf 

What Lies Beneath (PG-13)
(Two Stars)

Director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump) breaks a code of dramatic intention in What Lies Beneath that kills not only the film's fleeting moments of excitement but also any speck of empathy that an audience might observe for its characters. He does this by piling up so many false starts of plot and faux shocks of terror that by the time the story finally gets around to making sense with some nitty gritty horror scenes, the audience has become numb to the suspense.

Loud bursts of sound, in conjunction with quick revealing edits, may shake you in your seat by the time What Lies Beneath reaches its dramatic climax, but there's no longer any reason to care about the characters -- the filmmakers have, by then, repeatedly shown their disrespect by leading you down dead-end lanes of subplot as if to shout "got ya" and rub your nose in your own gullibility.

And if that's not enough, Alan Silvestri's musical score rips off Bernard Herrmann's famed musical arrangement for Psycho to such a degree that it's perilously close to plagiarism.

Dr. Norman Spencer (Harrison Ford) and Claire Spencer (Michelle Pfeiffer) are a well-to-do married couple finally alone in their lovely lakeside home after sending their daughter off to college. Claire is a beautiful woman with too much time on her hands, and so becomes an ideal lightning rod for a ghost from Norman's not-so-distant adulterous past.

Norman's poorly developed character isn't helped by Harrison Ford's declining acting ability. Ford has shifted into a look-at-what-great-shape-I'm-in, mumbling style of acting that disregards his co-actors as if they were just one more prop to use at his discretion.

It's not an attitude that fares well in the inestimable sphere of Michelle Pfeiffer's talents. Pfeiffer acts beyond Ford's range, and outside the story's depleting inertia by constantly mapping out emotions and ideas that register on her face like frequent flashes of important coded messages.

Unlike the works of directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, or Roman Polanski which demonstrate the genre of suspense applied with loving care equally toward audience and narrative, What Lies Beneath feels more like a slimy, psychological groping.


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