REVIEW – Shark Tale
Swimming somewhere between the highs of Pixar and the lows of recent Disney product, Dreamworks’ new animated kids’ adventure Shark Tale has a few clever ideas and some impressive artwork but relies mostly on weary, recycled humor: it’ll likely be a big hit.
Since every variation on the mob movie has already been done, directors (yes, that’s plural) Vicky Jenson, Bibi Bergeron and Rob Letterman (who co-wrote the script with Michael J. Wilson) apparently decided that what was needed was one in which the mobsters were sharks. Of course, this begs the question of how the sharks make a living, since there appear to be only fish around for them to get protection money from, and the fish have a tendency of swimming away screaming at the first glimpse of a shark, but that’s not really that important.
The problem in the shark mafia is that the boss, Don Lino (Robert De Niro, spoofing himself yet again) has a problem with his kids and apparent heirs. One boy, Frankie (Michael Imperioli) has a true killer instinct and Lino couldn’t be prouder, but his other boy, Lenny (Jack Black, sounding like he’s been sucking on helium) is just a disgrace. Lenny’s a nice enough kid, but being a vegetarian and somewhat of a wimp doesn’t look good for Lino. So, one day they’re out swimming and come across a fish who looks like he’d be easy for Lenny to take out. But after an anchor drops out of nowhere and kills Frankie, the fish, Oscar (Will Smith) and Lenny concoct a plan whereby Oscar gets to act the hero to the other fish by pretending to have killed Frankie and Lenny comes and lives with him, disguised as a dolphin.
Before any of that happens, though, the audience has had plenty of time to get to know Oscar, which is where many of the problems come in. Envisioned as the kind of irresponsible, big-dreaming kid who’s always getting told that he’ll never amount to anything, Oscar is the kind of role that Will Smith could do in his sleep – and probably has, on numerous occasions. Not content with his gig working at the Whale Wash—a fairly innovative setup whereby whales come swimming through a conveyor belt where fish dart around them cleaning the barnacles off, a squadron of turtles give a turtle wax, and provides the filmmakers the chance to remake the song “Car Wash” for the soundtrack – Oscar spends his time thinking up get rich quick schemes and acting charmingly irresponsible, not realizing that his best buddy, who also works at the Whale Wash, Angie (Renée Zellweger), is utterly in love with him. It’s basically Smith doing his Fresh Prince shtick all over again, only as an animated fish, and with bashful and affectless Zellweger as the romantic interest (which would have made for an interesting pairing, had this been live-action), which makes all the rather impressive animation still seem years behind the times.
The tortured convolutions of the screenplay-by-committee only highlight the essential, sinking shallowness that lurks at the heart of Shark Tale. There’s a handful of decent sight gags, including one where you briefly see a picture hanging on the wall of the shark’s lair, a sunken cruise liner, that looks suspiciously like DiCaprio’s sketch of Kate Winslet from Titanic, but that’s to be expected these days, and it can’t save what is essentially a story that seems to have been the last element that the filmmakers put together (“Oh wait, what do we have the fish and sharks do?”).
Trying to plug the gaps is a wealth of stunt casting, probably the most impressive thing about the film. Besides De Niro and Imperioli, there’s a high-caliber roster of Hollywood mobster types from Vincent Pastore and Peter Falk to the big coup, Martin Scorsese as Don Lino’s puffer fish sidekick (at least they got the eyebrows right). There’s also Angelina Jolie playing a vampish angelfish who catches Oscar’s eye, Katie Couric as newsfish Katie Current (no, it’s not even remotely funny), and, perhaps most oddly, Doug E. Doug and Ziggy Marley as Scorsese’s Rasta jellyfish henchmen, who win points just for showing up.
In the end, it’s a sad day when a film leaves you pining for the wit and imagination of Shrek.
Chris Barsanti (www.vastwasteland.blogspot.com)
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