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‘Magic in the Water’ (PG)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 30, 1995

The setting for the loosely wrapped (if not deranged) family adventure "Magic in the Water" is the fictitious Pacific Northwest village of Glenorky. According to legend, there's some sort of creature living in one of the nearby lakes, something along the lines of the Loch Ness Monster.

Something the village has named Orky.

But "Magic in the Water" isn't about Orky. Not really. And considering that he's possibly mythological and, at the very least, camera-shy, that's probably a plus—except that it makes the movie seem like "Free Willy" without a Willy.

To be fair, Orky is more of an ideal than an actual entity. The important point to remember about Orky is that he is about "believing." And in this case, not seeing is believing.

Written by Rick Stevenson—who also debuts as a director—and Icel Dobell Massey, the film is about a divorced, workaholic radio psychiatrist named Jack Black (Mark Harmon) and his lousy relationship with his kids, Ashley and Josh.

The vacation trip to Glenorky was designed as a bonding expedition for Dad and his much-ignored offspring. But though Jack may have valuable insights as a shrink, in real life he doesn't know the first thing about himself. Or how to implement the worthwhile advice he dispenses over the air. Once he gets up to the lake, Jack hunkers down to work on a new book, ignoring both his children and the natural beauty surrounding him.

This leaves only one place for the story to go: Jack has to wise up and realize that his family—not his career—is where it's at. Granted, it's a predictable resolution, but the path to it most definitely is not.

Ten-year-old Ashley (Sarah Wayne), who has the closest relationship with Orky, keeps trying to open her father's eyes to the wonders just outside his door, but Dad can't—or won't—try to get on his kids' level. He's lost touch with his inner Orky.

Meanwhile, it seems, Orky is demonstrating strange powers: Already, several men in the village claim that they have been "possessed" by his spirit. Not that this is a particularly bad thing, all in all, but for Dr. Bell (Harley Jane Kozak), a local psychiatrist, it is rather baffling.

Strangest of all, though, is that Jack becomes Orky's latest conquest and the doctor's newest patient. Now the cell phone is tossed aside and, among other things, he's begun madly digging a tunnel to China. Though patently absurd, this is actually the most surprising and original part of the film, if only because Harmon dives so enthusiastically into his character's temporary insanity. It's as if he turned suddenly into Christopher Walken.

Of course, everyone learns from Orky—Jack, Ashley, the Japanese scientists trying to find the monster—whether it is real or some collective fantasy. The only loser is a capitalist mill owner whose factory is polluting the lake where Orky lives—but then again, some people are beyond redemption.

There's definitely something in the water here, but magic . . .?

Magic in the Water is rated PG.

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