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Patrick Redmond, Magnolia Pictures
Alison Barry and Colin Farrell in "Ondine," a Magnolia Pictures release.

ONDINE — ★★ — Colin Farrell, Alicja Bachleda, Alison Barry; rated PG-13 (profanity, violence, brief partial nudity, brief sex); Broadway Centre

"Ondine" works OK when it's trying to be a romantic fantasy.

Screenwriter/director Neil Jordan can't leave well enough alone, though. His fable suddenly turns dark and nasty in the final third, when it becomes a thriller.

And while the film tries to recover from that serious stumble with a more optimistic and positive end note, it's still a disappointment, considering the potential and some of the talented people involved here.

Colin Farrell stars as Syracuse, a struggling Irish fisherman who's just pulled a rather unusual catch out of the sea.

What's tangled in his net is a young woman (Alicja Bachleda). This amnesiac begins referring to herself as Ondine, or "she came from the sea."

Syracuse offers the young woman a place to stay while she's recovering. Ondine becomes a good-luck charm for his fishing endeavors and a curiosity for his ailing daughter, Annie (Alison Barry).

Others in the village remain skeptical about whether Ondine really is what Annie believes, a mythical, half-human sea creature known as a selkie. And as Ondine and Syracuse grow closer, the others wonder what her true motivations are.

Jordan ("The Brave One") tries to ground this would-be fairy tale in reality, and that's a major problem. The shift in tone is so drastic and sudden that we almost feel like we're watching a completely different movie toward the end.

Also, Polish singer-turned-actress Bachleda may be visually pleasing, but she's not up to the task of playing a role this complex. Farrell tries to sell us on their burgeoning romance, but his efforts aren't completely successful.

(Despite their lack of chemistry in this film, the two leads became involved off-screen during the production.)

"Ondine" is rated PG-13 and features scattered strong profanity (including one usage of the so-called "R-rated" curse word), brief strong violent content and imagery (a car wreck, as well as a beating, implied), brief partial female nudity, and a brief sex scene (mostly implied). Running time: 103 minutes.

e-mail: jeff@desnews.com