Every year, Hollywood produces several hundred family-oriented movies about workaholic fathers who vow not to neglect their children anymore after something zany happens, often involving an animal. These are among Hollywood’s most vital exports. But did you know that Canada, which is a country located directly north of America, also makes movies like this? It is true! They don’t just involve moose and penguins, either. “Magic in the Water” is about a Loch Ness monster!
This movie was filmed in a scenic “province” (their version of a state) called “British Columbia” (their version of Washington). It stars Mark Harmon as a brusque and unhelpful psychiatrist who hosts a radio call-in show on which he verbally abuses anyone desperate enough to seek his guidance. His character is named Jack Black, which is unfortunate. Jack Black is divorced and does not have custody of his children, so he compensates for this by being distant and inattentive whenever he’s with them.
Such is the case this particular summer, when he takes the kids to a charming lakeside town where the lake, legend has it, is home to a sea monster called Orky. Jack’s young daughter, Ashley (Sarah Wayne), believes in the legend, because kids are dumb like that. Jack’s 16-year-old son, Josh (a pre-“Dawson’s Creek” Joshua Jackson), scoffs at his gullible sister. I should point out, however, that the legend comes from a local Indian tribe, represented by a Wise & Mysterious Old Indian character who sits quietly and observes everything, so the chances of the legend being true start rapidly approaching 100 percent.
Also, the movie poster has a picture of Ashley sitting on the head of a sea monster.
Jack Black is here on “vacation” with the kids, but all he does is take work-related calls on his cell phones. Yes, plural. He has two cell phones that we see, and a third one chirping away in his luggage. The screenplay template said, “Insert details establishing that Father character is too busy for his children,” and this particular screenwriter, unable to come up with numerous details, simply multiplied the one detail he could think of.
Dad’s cell phone addiction leaves Ashley and Josh to sit around, bored in a quaint village that has been made all the quainter by being in Canada. One lazy day Ashley is on the pier at the lake when she thinks she sees something in the water and starts talking to it, as one does. She’s pretty sure it’s Orky. When it’s time to go, she leaves six Oreos on the pier as a treat. (Ashley always has a bag of Oreos with her, I don’t know why. I mean, I know why; Nabisco paid for product placement. But I don’t know why in the story.) The next day, the Oreos are still there — except the filling has been taken out!! Somehow Orky the giant lake monster carefully pulled the cookies apart, licked out the middles, and put them back together, despite being a giant lake monster without opposable thumbs! There must be magic in the water, because I can’t even pull an Oreo apart without one of the halves breaking.
Meanwhile, there’s a psychiatrist in town named Wanda Bell (Harley Jane Kozak) who runs a group therapy for people who believe they have not only seen Orky but been temporarily possessed by its spirit. Apparently that is something that Orky does, if it exists (which it does)! But Dr. Wanda figures it’s a hallucination, a psychosis that all her patients have acquired simultaneously. Such mass outbreaks of mental illness are not unprecedented. For example, many residents of Boston have been convinced for several years that the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, even though science proves that this is impossible.
One night Ashley overhears her dad complaining on the phone about how he doesn’t have time to be a father AND talk on his multiple cell phones. Her feelings hurt, Ashley half-heartedly runs away, though all she really does is wander away from the lake house over to another part of the lake. She climbs a rickety rope ladder up the face of a cliff, only to be imperiled when the rungs start snapping under her weight. (Josh climbed it earlier in the movie without incident, but whatever.) Jack goes looking for Ashley and winds up under the ladder just in time to break her fall when she plummets. Ashley is uninjured; Jack has a concussion. Also, at some point in all that he got possessed by Orky. When he wakes up, he is cheerful and merry and eager to play and romp with his children.
Jack now has a psychic connection to Orky and starts to get sick when Orky does. And why is Orky getting sick? Because of the steady diet of Oreo filling? Certainly not! It’s because some bad guys in town keep dumping toxic waste in the lake. It’s unclear where this hazardous material is coming from, as the town’s chief industry is Orky-related tourism, which is rather “green,” ecologically speaking. Maybe the bad guys are making plastic Orky masks out of deadly chemicals, then dumping the extra stuff into the lake, thus slowly poisoning the very thing that ensures their financial stability. Look, I didn’t say their business plan made any sense. Maybe capitalism works differently in Canada, because of the metric system.
Actually, in their defense, the bad guys do not believe that Orky actually exists. In fact, they have decorated a submarine to look like Orky (I do not know where they got a submarine), and they drive it around the lake now and then to ensure continued Orky “sightings” and drum up business. Somehow, Ashley and Josh get trapped in this Orky-submarine, and the submarine starts leaking, and they’re going to drown because I guess they can’t open the hatch and get out, maybe? And for some reason a Japanese boy is with them. And then Orky shows up — a mere 80 minutes into the film, I might add — and saves them, then is healed by the Wise & Mysterious Old Indian, who does some chanting and dancing around a totem pole in the forest, and everyone lives happily ever after.
As far as lame, nonsensical children’s movies borrowed from “E.T.” go, “Magic in the Water” is probably the most Canadian, except for “Gooby.” That’s the quote they can use on the DVD if they want.