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'Water' Has More Dubious Whimsy Than Magic : Movie review: Good performances are hampered by heavy-handed political correctness in the story of a vacation to a lake that is supposed to contain a Loch Ness-style monster.

August 30, 1995|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There may be "Magic in the Water," for it surely isn't up there on the screen--or at least not in sufficient quantity to make this film anything special among the summer's many family films.

On the plus side are some very good performances by Mark Harmon and by Joshua Jackson and Sarah Wayne as his children; on the minus side are a heavy-handed dose of political correctness and a needless flight into dubious whimsy in an already fanciful situation.

Harmon plays a sour, tough-talking Seattle talk-show psychiatrist, divorced and indifferent to his kids. His former wife has shamed him into taking them on a vacation to a Canadian resort community, whose lake is supposed to contain its own elusive Loch Ness-style monster.

Nobody, however, is having a very good time until Harmon gets knocked on his head. This hoariest of devices not only transforms his personality--suddenly, he's a loving, caring father--but he also becomes part of a group of men who feel that the gentle spirit of the mythical lake monster, Orky, has inhabited them. It's an apparently transcending spiritual experience, but one that brings them into group therapy administered by local medico Harley Jane Kozak (whose idea of a performance seems to be a series of increasingly tiresome quizzical expressions).

This development comes across as mainly silly and extraneous and tends to sidetrack us from the children's growing conviction that there really is a wonderful creature lurking at the bottom of the lake. This notion has real dramatic possibilities, but it's coupled with great dollops of mystical Canadian Native wisdom and ecological protest in such a bald, trite manner that it's an instance of enough already.

Director Rick Stevenson and his writers are most adept at making real Harmon's errant but transformed father and Jackson's teen-age son and Wayne's 10-year-old charmer and their evolving relationships with each other.

Stevenson directs them into winning, involving portrayals, but fantasy clearly is not his strong suit. As a result, it's hard to imagine all but the very young getting caught up in this sweet, well-meaning movie.

* MPAA rating: PG, for language and moments of peril. Times guidelines: The film's content is suitable for all ages.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

'Magic in the Water'

Mark Harmon: Jack Black

Joshua Jackson: Joshua Black

Harley Jane Kozak: Dr. Wanda Bell

Sarah Wayne: Ashley Black

A TriStar and Triumph Films presentation of an Oxford Film Company/Pacific Motion Pictures production. Director Rick Stevenson. Producers Matthew O'Connor, Stevenson. Executive producers Karen Murphy, Tony Allard. Screenplay by Stevenson and Icel Dobell Massey; from a story by Ninian Dunnett and Stevenson & Massey. Cinematographer Thomas Burstyn. Editor Allan Lee. Costumes Monique Prudhomme. Music David Schwartz. Production designer Errol Clyde Klotz. Art director Eric Norlin. Set decorator T. Michael O'Connor. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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