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"What Lies Beneath"

Directed by Robert Zemeckis.
Written by Clark Gregg.
Starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer.
Release Year:  2000 
Review Date:  7/23/00


Latest sign that I will have to move out of DC because of traffic:  I went out to Red, a dance club in Dupont Circle here, last night with some friends, including Bellview members Mike "Money" Greening and Tena "Guns" Partik.  So, after dropping Mike off about 4 am, I left Dupont and got onto 66 West, heading out to Falls Church.  As I rounded the first bend towards the Lee Highway exit  i.e., the first exit on 66), all I saw was brake lights.  That's right, at 4 AM


Justin "Big Daddy" Bell and friends were caught in traffic!  Why, you ask?  There apparently was an accident so horrific that they closed route 66 westbound.  They closed the highway...unfortunately, that happens about once a month here!  I can't take it anymore!!  Four in the morning!

Whew.  Anyway, today I caught up with Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer in the new thriller "What Lies Beneath."  I just got off the phone with Libby "Libby" Hiller, and she thought it was the scariest movie she has seen in her adult years.  I disagree, but I will admit that it has its share of scary moments, which is what I will talk about today.

The movie itself is average, and it deals with Claire (Pfeiffer) and Norman(Ford), parents of an 18-year-old that has just gone off to college.  Empty nesters, Norman is constantly working on a research project at a lab in some city in Vermont, while Claire is left to the house all by herself all day.  Claire starts hearing things and seeing ghosts, and all of this leads to a revelation that Norman had an affair with a student at the school in this random city in Vermont.  Ridiculous, "Fatal Attraction"-style high jinks ensue, and about 140 minutes of your time ends with one of the longest, Longest, LONGEST endings in the history of cinema.

But, more importantly, this "Sixth Sense" hybrid of PG-13 thrillers is all the rage in Hollywood.  And I'm getting sick of this crap fast.  As an actor, you have to feel cheap being involved in a project that calls itself "scary" because it has those cheap little black cat moments throughout.  You know, the ones where a character is looking for something, there is no music playing so it is all quiet, and then suddenly...a cat comes out of the bushes!  Ayyyyy!!!   Nooooo!!!!  Well, "What Lies Beneath" has not one, not two, but about 20 scenes like this!  Twenty!!  Most of the movie is spent watching Claire move around the house looking for this supposed ghost, and as a two-hour what-is-behind-that-door movie, it gets old trying to be tense throughout the whole damned thing.

You just can't build a movie around that.  There are essentially only two people in the movie, and Ford has almost nothing to do with the film in its first hour.  And, neither one of their characters is very interesting; Pfeiffer's character is a housewife, and to give her dimensions the writers put her in a garden club!  She used to play music professionally, but she mysteriously gave that up, so in a couple of scenes Pfeiffer is just playing solitaire.  She loves her daughter, but after the first scenes that introduce us to (and summarily take away) the daughter--named Caitlin—she is never mentioned again.  Claire calls Caitlin early on because she is lonely, but then she is a distant memory!!  Character actor Joe Morton shows up as the family psychologist, but he only has two scenes and they are all too brief.

And, that ending!  This, friends, neighbors, countrymen, must be the longest cat-and-mouse ending of all time.  It gives us a cool little twist, and then we spend the next half-hour watching either the cat or the mouse die or almost die, taking us from a hallway to a bathroom to a stairwell to a foyer to a truck to a bridge to a river.  I was slitting my wrists by the end of this thing, praying, hoping that it would just end!  I wanted to get up and leave, but then one character would suddenly not be dead again and I would have to sit back down!

In fact, it is the ending that left the funny taste in my mouth, but it just gets comedic watching all of this play out.  I am anxious to see this period of horror/thriller movies tone down a bit; the formula does not get done very well very often ("The Sixth Sense" & "The Blair Witch Project" being some of the too-few outliers) and "What Lies Beneath" falls short of those lofty goals.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09