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Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Get in the Tub: What Lies Beneath Movie Review by Spyder Darling

 
What Lies Beneath
Harrison Ford as Dr. Spencer
and Michelle Pfieffer as wife Claire
 
What lies beneath the surface of the summer's latest superstar-spangled attraction is, well, not much really. Director Robert Zemeckis's new picture is a rousing, but routine, "psycho" drama starring Harrison Ford as Dr. Norman Spencer, a noted New England college professor, and Michelle Pfieffer as his beautiful, but nervous, wife Claire. Lately, Claire has been acting like she's seen a ghost, possibly because she has, or at least thinks she has. Most of the movie is spent following Claire around as she tries to prove she isn't crazy, even though she's been acting nutty as a "box of chocolates," to quote Zemeckis's most famous feature film, Forrest Gump. As Claire tries to unearth the source of unearthly whispers, apparitions and unexplained activities around the couple's isolated odd house, she uncovers secrets about her husband that he would prefer stay buried, drowned or otherwise put to bed with a shovel.

Zemeckis simmers What Lies Beneath slowly with an ordinary beginning about a pair of middle-aged lovebirds sending their daughter Caitlin, played by the comely Katharine Towne, off to college and finally having the nest to themselves. The director then adds a splash of subplot involving the possible disappearance of the wifely half of the Spencer's new neighbors. Mary Feur is the alleged missing person, played by Miranda Otto who can be seen next in the film version of Lord of the Rings. Mary is mostly heard either in the throws of passion or in the grips of unexplained anxiety. When she isn't seen nor heard for a few days, Claire naturally assumes she's been made mincemeat of. Later it's revealed Mary's initials are the same as Madison Frank, a lusty local coed who disappeared from campus a year ago. Madison is played by supermodel Amber Valletta, who looks as good as a girl can playing a chick who's been dead for a year. No wonder the towns in these horror movies are so small, what with all the women vanishing.

Zemeckis has crafted What Lies Beneath into a flick with enough splatter for the Scream 3 crowd, and yet serious enough melodrama for adults too "mature" for Blair Witch, but still craving a raving to call their own. Preview audiences representing both age groups spent much of the last half of the movie squealing louder than Ned Beatty in Deliverance. An enterprising promoter could sell tickets for both the edge and the back of the seats for the movie.

 What Lies Beneath
Michelle Pfieffer as Claire
As Dr. Spencer, Harrison Ford is acceptable in his role as a workaholic academic married to his genetics research as much as he is to his pretty, but fidgety, wife Claire. Both Ford and Pfieffer seem comfortable in their roles, but the kissy-faced make-out scenes between the slightly over-the-hump hunk and the actress formerly known as Catwoman will make you as squeamish as the more traditionally horrifying parts of the picture. After all, everyone knows parents have sex, but no one wants to see them do it. What Lies Beneath also stars Diana Scarwid as Claire's kooky crony Jody. Scarwid was most recently well received as Bess Truman in HBO's "Truman" biography and brings a much-needed breath of comic relief to What Lies Beneath’s otherwise claustrophobic mood. When asked by Claire if Jody's picked up any dudes with her just bought black convertible Kahrman Ghia, she quips, "Yeah, I've got him in the trunk!" About the only other light moment in the movie is when Claire uses a Ouija board purchased at K-Mart to help contact the late, but still leggy, Madison Frank. Obviously, if it's comedy you want, go see Nutty Professor II.

So long as you don't dig too deeply, What Lies Beneath isn't half bad. I jumped and jolted a few times myself and usually it takes an announcement of "Last Call" to get me so terrified. Zemeckis's patient pacing and semi-surprising plot twists are clearly inspired by Alfred Hitchcock. There are scenes in the film I'm sure Zemeckis hopes will do for bathtubs what Psycho did for taking showers. Though the man still has to learn it takes more than just turning up the shrill soundtrack, at the scary parts, for a director to be considered a master of his art.

It's also good to see Harrison Ford for once not cast as the day-saving hero type. Yes, after over thirty years in the business Ford's finally expanded his acting range from A to B. And as for Pfieffer, it's a pleasure to see her any time. Coincidentally, Pfieffer's ventured into occult ground back in 1987 when she played one of the three Witches of Eastwick in George Millers' amusing adaptation of John Updike's nefarious novel. Luckily, this time around Michelle doesn't have to "Cher" the screen with anyone more charismatic than the Sequoia-like presence of Harrison Ford. Though the usual display of multi-million dollar special effects overwhelm the movie's ending, if you just scream right through it you'll barely notice how unbelievable it all is.

So, if you're not looking for anything more than an evening of adrenaline-pumping suspense in an air-conditioned theater, What Lies Beneath may be just what the witch doctor ordered. Clichés and all, it still packs enough terror and surprise to keep you wondering – despite the laws of good taste and better judgement – exactly how it's all going to end.

Personally, since my home a/c is working just fine, I file What Lies Beneath under "one to rent." At least until I get my electric bill for the summer, which is when you're really going to hear me scream.

July 2000

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