Review: David Oyelowo’s ambitious directing debut, ‘The Water Man, ‘ runs lukewarm

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For his first function in a directorial capacity, British actor David Oyelowo, operating from Emily A. Needell’s screenplay, embarked on an imaginary adventure fueled by real-life tribulations. The end result, “The Water Man, ” while not entirely graceless, registers as tonally disjointed and ultimately insignificant in spite of its star-fronted toss.

New in a small American town, Gunner ( Lonnie Chavis ), an imaginative teen boy working on an interesting graphic novel, learns his mother (a stupendous Rosario Dawson) is battling leukemia. Amos, the family’s army patriarch (Oyelowo in an adequate role), finds his son’s interests odd, thus their own communication suffers.

Enter Alfred Molina’s character, the local eccentric, telling Gunner the legend of the underworld Water Man in a hand-drawn animated sequence — far and away the film’s most memorable passage — and inspiring him to seek out the ghostly figure’s alchemy in the backwoods to save his loved one. As he joins vagabond girl Jo (Amiah Miller), the tale’s intentions crash and burn somewhere along the road in between “Stranger Things” and a good Amblin title .

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Lonnie Chavis is embraced by Rosario Dawson in "The Water Man."

Lonnie Chavis and Rosario Dawson in the movie “The Water Man. ”

(Karen Ballard / RLJE Films)

Heavy-handed acting from the young toss and Needell’s hackneyed dialogue further unmask the movie’s lack of visual wonder plus narrative cohesiveness. In justness, its honest treatment of kid abuse and premature dying as plot engines save the ordeal from becoming totally generic, though emotional equilibrium escapes it.

The cumulative impact of all the relationships is lukewarm, and aside from the animated flourishes, there are few notable visual touches. Even the sword Gunner carries, which his dad obtained when he was stationed in Japan, scans like a forced accessory to add a dash of epic flavor to this hero’s trip. Limitations in production value are also made apparent within the more fanciful scenes.

No further approval of Oyelowo’s acting expertise is required, but in this brand new position calling the shots behind the camera he got lost in the unequal writing’s forest on his method to success. A treacherous objective, “The Water Man” exhibits enough silver linings in its ambition to merit another try.

‘The Water Man’

Rated: PG, for thematic articles, scary images, peril and some language

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

Playing: Starts May 7 in general release where movies building are open