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What Lies Beneath  

When you get a glaucoma test, your head is placed in a brace of sorts and a nozzle is aimed directly at your eye. A quick, relatively gentle jet of air strikes your eye. You're not exactly scared by it, and you knew it was coming, but pure reflex makes you jerk back anyway.

What Lies Beneath
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That's "What Lies Beneath." You know all the scares are coming, but they make you jerk back anyway. The title of Robert Zemeckis' latest is meant to be an ambiguous one. "Lies" can be read as verb or noun. And the answer to "what lies beneath?" in the actual movie is, in theory, a debatable one. (You know: "Is it really supernatural forces, or just psychological ones?") But the answer to "what lies beneath" the movie itself is relatively simple: "Diabolique," Hitchcock, "The Sixth Sense," et cetera.

Zemeckis clearly knows he's holding his film together with the staples of groundbreaking works that preceded him. But there's no love or even humor in his acknowledgments, such as the shower-curtain rings that are ripped from their rod, a la "Psycho," the Hitchcock film to which "What Lies Beneath" is most indebted.

The movie actually starts out as "Rear Window," but never sells us the premise that a murdered neighbor has decided for some reason to haunt the next-door home of Michelle Pfeifer and Harrison Ford. Nevertheless, their idyllic Vermont lakefront home becomes beset by mists of Biblical proportions outside and CGI origins inside.

Special effects and jolt-inducing music stings aside, Pfeifer is the star of this picture and with a better script might be getting a lot of positive attention for this role. At one point, she briefly segues from victim/prey to perpetrator and the transformation is a powerful and effective one. Unfortunately, the film doesn't utilize that power and the moment quickly flits by.

And then there's Ford. Ford seems to be at a problematic stage of his career, and this movie, even if commercially successful, seems unlikely to change that. Audiences most often love him in one of two roles: The laughing rogue (Han Solo, Indiana Jones) or the frustrated, righteous man (as seen in films such as "Witness," "Frantic" and even "Air Force One.") Norman (yes, Norman) Spencer of "What Lies Beneath" is neither of those.

Furthermore, at one stage of the movie, you're asked to at least suspect Ford as having sinister motives. It's the first time I can recall Ford taking on such a role and he frankly doesn't succeed at it anywhere near as fully as Pfeifer does.

Reportedly, Zemeckis made "What Lies Beneath" in a month-long span between shooting his desert-island movie "Castaway." The reason for the break was that for the island scenes, he needed star Tom Hanks to lose some weight. It would have been nice if he could have spent some time giving some weight to "What Lies Beneath."

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