A loud splash disturbs the outdoor pool one night at The Cove, a drab, built-for-economy apartment complex somewhere in low-rent Philadelphia. The apartment's stuttering super, Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) bounds out of his poolside bungalow, flashlight at the ready, thinking he's just caught one of the tenants in an unauthorized, off-hours cannonball. He's actually interrupted Story (Bryce Dallas Howard), a skinny dipper from the stars who has arrived in our world to complete a task so profound that she can't even articulate it. She can't articulate anything, in fact. Her role in the film will be to wander around aimlessly, speaking in a throaty hush and preferring to remain naked save for a man's button-up shirt that drops past her knees. Sometimes she gives off a seductive gaze and bares her long legs, while other times she wilts, as if her batteries are being drained by malevolent outside forces. She's like a cross between Annette Bening and E.T.

We eventually learn that she is a sea nymph from The Blue World, which sounds like a place you'd see on HBO's Real Sex, and she's come to deliver prognostications about the future of America. She can look someone in the eye and tell them exactly what happens in their future, and does so more than once, without even the courtesy of a spoiler warning. Why she crash landed at The Cove is a long story, matched in complexity only by the one about how she plans to return to her home planet. Her situation is so complicated that you wonder why she bothered making the trip; among other things, she must elude a wolfish predator with grass for fur, decipher complex symbology that will identify her Guardian and her Guild, and summon a giant eagle that can be ridden out of town like a flying carpet. Is this film derived from a bedtime story or the liner notes to a Led Zeppelin album?