The Deep End
dir. McGehee & Siegel
Opens August 24
Fox Tower

In art, water is usually a symbol of life, sustenance, rebirth, fertility--all that kind of stuff. Limpid pools of H20 can correlate to a certain primal, womb-like environment; it's the stuff from which we all, ultimately, have come.

In The Deep End, though, directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel take this trope and turn it on its head. In this neo-noirish thriller (loosely based on the 1949 film The Reckless Moment), water is dangerous, deadly even--a repository of buried desires and best-forgotten secrets. One gets the feeling that maybe neither of these guys ever learned to swim.

The action unfolds in the Reno-Tahoe area of the California-Nevada border. Tilda Swinton plays Margaret Hall, perfectly content in her affluent housewifery, but for the fact that her husband is away in the Navy, and she's recently come to realize that her teenage son Beau is (a) gay and (b) spending a lot of time with Darby Reese, a sleazy nightclub owner in Reno. (One of the movie's other subtexts is the way the son has to cross over from idyllic, forested California into aqua-colored, neon-littered Reno to get his kicks.)

When Reese, an Eric Roberts type, slimy charmer, shows up at the Hall's lakeside residence one fateful night, he ends up dead the next morning, and mom jumps into protective overdrive to keep safe the twin secrets of her son's sexual proclivities and his fatal act. Either could jeopardize his scholarship chances, but it's unclear which she sees as more damaging.

An initially hostile blackmailer soon shows up, demanding $50,000 or he'll give the cops the video he has of Beau and Darby engaged in an act that moms should never see their sons engage in, regardless of whom it's with. The blackmailer is played by that bodacious Balkan from E.R., Goran Visnjic, so we know he can't be all bad.

The Deep End, though, belongs to Swinton, and it's her performance that powers the suspense. As the uber-mother who's forced to juggle her domestic chores with her criminal ones, she's an inspiration to harried women everywhere. Any soccer mom worth the lugnuts on her Land Rover can relate to Maragret's dilemma, being forced to chose between meeting the blackmailer at four p.m. or picking up the girls from ballet practice. "I gave up my music career for this?"

The destination of every Woody Allen plot is exactly the same: Woody bones a hot young woman that he has no right boning. All other events exist to bring things to that foregone conclusion.

In Curse of the Jade Scorpion, the events that bring us there aren't nearly as entertaining as they want to be. Allen plays his usual riff on his 60-year-old neurotic, womanizing self, this time as C.W. Briggs, a claims investigator for a large insurance agency. We quickly learn that Briggs is feeling especially neurotic because his agency has hired an efficiency expert named Ms. Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt), who has been making changes around the office that don't mesh with Briggs' old-fashioned style. The two hate each other, and many less than funny insults are exchanged between them throughout the movie.

The challenge for Allen the filmmaker is thus to change Briggs' relationship with Fitzgerald from malice to boneage, and he does so by way of a hypnotism demonstration that the two find themselves attending simultaneously.

Stop reading and guess what happens next.

Now read on: they are both selected to be hypnotized, the hypnotist decides to be cute and hypnotizes them to think they are in love, and when the show is over, we learn that certain "elements" of the hypnotic spell are still hangin' around. Was your guess right? Mine sure was.

There are other twists as well. The hypnotist turns out to be a jewel thief who uses his powers to make people steal for him. Briggs and Fitzgerald are of course his latest victims and presto: Wacky antics ensue. It all feels tired, though. Twisty plots aren't Allen's style. His foregone conclusion works best when the events leading to it are complicated by real relationships, not gimmicky story contrivances.

Save your money and go rent Manhattan. It was made during a time when Allen still loved his characters, and he was only in his 30s, so it was at least plausible that he could achieve boneage with Diane Keaton.