Good Pop, Bad Pop

The Woman Chaser and What Lies Beneath

Robert Zemeckis, whose Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks, is slated for release at the end of the year, may simply have been too distracted with his other big movie to notice that the screenplay for What Lies Beneath is dreck. Credited to Clark Gregg, from a story by Gregg and Sarah Kernochan, it is at once illogical and insultingly stupid, filled with dead-end twists and the sort of dialogue that makes a mockery of actual adult relations. Does anyone associated with this film actually believe that people talk to each other the way Norman and Claire do, unless one of the concerned parties has been lobotomized? Or that a woman like Claire, who the screenwriters insist is as smart and talented as she is beautiful, would have left her brilliant music career, which took her from Juilliard to Carnegie Hall, to tend house and cut roses (much less leave her cello to languish in the damp of a garage)? It isn't just that Claire lacks self-actualization — she's as dumb as a post, in the way of many of the bimbos who once ran seminaked through slasher movies like Slumber Party Massacre.

Since the bimbo here is played by Michelle Pfeiffer and her co-star is Indiana Jones and the director is the man who made Forrest Gump, this slasher movie comes with expensive talent and production values; it also makes generous use of the Hitchcock oeuvre, from Rear Windowto Alan Silvestri's Bernard Hermann–like score, even as it references Henri-Georges Clouzot's Diabolique and tries to siphon off the paranormal hijinks of the phenomenon known as The Sixth Sense. There was a time when few filmmakers in Hollywood brought as much pop élan to the movies as Zemeckis. Back to the Future, its even better sequel and Who Framed Roger Rabbit were not the work of an appointed genius — their easy charms were part of what made them soar, and, of course, has allowed them to endure as entertainments. In What Lies Beneath, there's nothing remotely Zemeckis-like beyond a few showy camera tricks (in one scene, the camera looks up at a prostrate Claire as if the wooden floor had suddenly turned transparent), along with the drift toward self-importance that left such a bitter aftertaste in Forrest Gump. Self-importance is lethal when it comes to pop movies. And as much as the filmmakers would like us to believe that what lies beneath is something along the lines of I see dead people, instead I see dead careers.

THE WOMAN CHASER | Written and directed by ROBINSON DEVOR Based on the novel by CHARLES WILLEFORD | Produced by SOLY HAIM Executive produced by JOSEPH McSPADDEN | At the Nuart Theater, Friday–Thursday, July 21–27

WHAT LIES BENEATH | Directed by ROBERT ZEMECKIS Written by CLARK GREGG | Produced by ZEMECKIS, STEVE STARKEY and JACK RAPKE | Released by DreamWorks and 20th Century Fox | Citywide

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