"Magic in the Water" is an unremarkable but easy-to-enjoy fantasy about a U.S. family's encounter with Canada's answer to the Loch Ness Monster. Family-oriented pic will need savvy marketing if producers hope to score bigger B.O. than most other recent non-Disney kid product.

“Magic in the Water” is an unremarkable but easy-to-enjoy fantasy about a U.S. family’s encounter with Canada’s answer to the Loch Ness Monster. Family-oriented pic will need savvy marketing if producers hope to score bigger B.O. than most other recent non-Disney kid product. If enough word of mouth can be generated, “Magic” could post fair to good numbers in planned autumn release before an even more profitable run on homevideo.

Mark Harmon is well cast in his best movie role to date as Dr. Jack Black, a divorced talk-radio psychiatrist who delivers hard-nosed advice to troubled callers. (His typical response to a self-pitying loser: “Quit your whining! Get a life!”)

Jack promises to spend a summer of bonding and togetherness with his two children when he takes them along for a vacation by a Canadian lake. Once they arrive at their remote cabin, however, Jack spends most of his time in his study working on a book, leaving his kids to fend for themselves.

Ashley (Sarah Wayne), Jack’s 10-year-old daughter, is fascinated by local legends about a mysterious creature that dwells at the bottom of the lake. Josh (Joshua Jackson), her older brother, doesn’t place much stock in the legends. But several folks in the nearby town of Glenorky claim to have glimpsed the creature, which they have nicknamed Orky.

More important, a few townspeople claim they were briefly “possessed” by Orky , and currently are being treated by local psychiatrist Wanda Bell (Harley Jane Kozak).

It doesn’t take long for Jack to become a believer, albeit a reluctant one. He is “possessed” by Orky while saving Ashley from a potentially fatal mishap. Afterwards, he begins to loosen up and unleash his inner child. He even tries to dig a hole in the sand “all the way to China.” Ashley thinks this is neat, Josh thinks it’s embarrassing, and the shrink thinks Jack might benefit from hospitalization and observation.

Director Rick Stevenson and co-writer Icel Dobell Massey tell their fanciful story with an appreciable amount of wit and imagination. It turns out that Orky is possessing the townspeople in an attempt to warn them that toxic waste is being dumped into the lake by a corrupt businessman and his cohorts.

Even more important than the ecology-minded plot, however, is the pic’s emphasis on parent-child relationships. Any parent, married or divorced, who ever feels guilty about not spending enough time with the kids will experience a none-too-gentle shock of recognition here.

With so much going for the pic, it’s a pity that the special effects are, well, less than special. Orky doesn’t make an on-camera appearance until the final third of the story. Youngsters accustomed to the computer-generated magic of “Jurassic Park” will be singularly unimpressed by this sad-eyed but rubbery-looking creature.

Still, for children of all ages who are willing to make the necessary leap of imagination, “Magic in the Water” can be appreciated as harmless, heart-warming fun. Nothing, not even the cartoonish menace of the villains, is ever allowed to get out of hand. And some of the comic touches are genuinely comical.

Jackson and Wayne are unaffectedly natural child actors, and they develop a credible give-and-take with Harmon and each other. Kozak works hard in an attempt to expand a one-dimensional character through sheer force of acting skill. The effort shows, but at least she gives it her best shot.

Thomas Burstyn’s beautiful color lensing of the British Columbia locations is one of the pic’s most impressive elements. Other tech credits are first-rate.

Magic in the Water

Production

A TriStar Pictures and Triumph Films release of an Oxford Film Co./Pacific Motion Pictures production. Produced by Matthew O'Connor, Rick Stevenson. Executive producers, Karen Murphy, Tony Allard. Directed by Rick Stevenson. Screenplay, Stevenson, Icel Dobell Massey, from a story by Ninian Dunnett, Stevenson, Massey.

Crew

Camera (color), Thomas Burstyn; editor, Allan Lee; music, David Schwartz; production design, Errol Clyde Klotz; costumes, Monique Prudhomme; sound (Dolby), Anke Bakker; visual effects supervisor, Gene Warren Jr.; assistant director, Jack Hardy; casting, Debra Zane , Stuart Aikins. Reviewed at Cineplex Odeon Spectrum Cinema, Houston, April 22, 1995. (In WorldFest/Houston Film Festival.) MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 98 min.

With

Jack Black - Mark Harmon
Joshua Black - Joshua Jackson
Dr. Wanda Bell - Harley Jane Kozak
Ashley Black - Sarah Wayne
Hiro - Willie Nark-Orn
Uncle Kipper - Frank Sotonoma Salsedo
Mack Miller - Morris Panych
Sheriff Stevenson - Tamsin Kelsey
With: Adrien Dorvall, Marc Acheson, Thomas Cavanaugh, Garrett Bennett, Brian Finney, David Rasche.
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