Picks and Pans Review: Lady in the Water

updated 07/31/2006 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/31/2006 01:00AM

Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard

BY LEAH ROZEN

DRAMA

During writer-director M. Night Shyamalan's latest, a smug film critic (Bob Balaban) kvetches, "There is no originality left in the world." Shyamalan (The Village) is determined to prove the guy wrong. In this supernatural story about a handyman (Giamatti) who rallies residents of an apartment complex to save a water nymph from the forces of evil, the strain shows. Lady in the Water is different, all right. It's also a self-important yawn.

Shyamalan (who also made The Sixth Sense and Signs) is to be commended for eschewing formulaic pap. But Lady fails to heed the fundamental rule of drama: Show, don't tell. Characters ploddingly explain their every action, except for the damp nymph (Howard), who is mostly mute throughout. Shyamalan modestly cast himself in Lady as a character whose writings are destined to change the world. Not this time, bub. (PG-13)

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