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"What Lies Beneath"

Robert Zemeckis has taken two top-rank actors and gone from "Forrest Gump" to a B-movie haunted house thriller. It's a lesson in the importance of the script material. In this case, the play is the usual thing and, however talented the cast, they cannot make it rise above ordinary nor add to what's not original about it.

Claire and Norman Spencer (Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford) have just seen their daughter Caitlin off to school and are facing their life alone for the first time in many years. Not too bad a life judging from a great house on the shores of a lake, a comfortable enough setting to, perhaps, help her heal from a serious car accident a year ago. Norman is a celebrated researcher.

After an episode of hyper-reaction to a neighbor, Claire starts seeing ghosts in her own house. She then sees a psychotherapist but he's unable to disillusion her. An intelligent woman, she knows how incredible her sightings are to others and reveals them only when they overcome her.

Norman disbelieves at first, but eventually accepts that she's actually seeing something.

That's about all that can be revealed here without mitigating the chills and cheap tricks that ordinary ghost stories offer. This one relies on a battery of the usual shock effects -- like they were pulled out of a database. A sudden loud noise will get you every time! But, if you go to a Zemeckis-Pfeiffer-Ford movie, you expect a clever rethinking of the genre, something a lot less cliched.

It is SO much a pastiche of horror movies past, that it can be accepted that Zemeckis did it intentionally. That, however, doesn't salvage the unfortunate B-movie result. The intentions were a miscalculation as far as it appeals to the lowest common audience standard. Fans of "Scare" 1, 2 and 3, "I Know What You Did Last Summer", etc. will embrace "What Lies Beneath" and particularly love the ending, which I can only classify as a desperate resolution by the writer (Clark Gregg).

Fans of Pfeiffer won't be disappointed with her performance. She fills any role she plays with conviction -- you couldn't ask for a better ghost obsessed heroine. She offers enough shadings of character to fill two roles.

Ford is fine, and suitably weighty. Now, how about another Ford-Pfeiffer pairing in something for a more demanding crowd?

Estimated cost: $100,000,000. Projected U.S. box-office: $155,000,000.

Rated D, for Desperate.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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