Shark Tale sinks like a stone

Oct. 6, 2004, midnight | By Ravi Umarji | 16 years, 3 months ago

Slap together a star-studded cast and an excellent soundtrack with a plot that goes nowhere and you get disaster. Or, more accurately, you get Shark Tale.

Vicky Jenson, Shark Tale's director, tries to follow up her success on Shrek, but she fails miserably. Shrek was a movie that was both romantic and comical and spoofed entire genres by poking fun at its own clichéd plot. Shark Tale, however, has none of this self-depreciating charm, and it doesn't bring anything new to the table, either. It's the same old story of the little guy who wants to make it big in the ocean.

This little guy comes in the form of Oscar (Will Smith), a loose-mouthed tongue-scrubber at the "Whale-Wash" (the ocean's version of a car-wash). Oscar exudes confidence and security, but he really desires to rise from his lowly position in life and live at the top of the reef where everybody who's anybody lives. Oscar's financial woes are his undoing, however, and he is taken by his boss, Sykes (Martin Scorsese) to be killed by Sykes's Rasta jellyfish (there is no conceivable reason for the jellyfish being Rastafarian—the accents have no connection with the plot and completely clash with the rest of the movie). As Sykes swims away, he says in one of many forced Godfather references, "It's nothing personal, just business."

Meanwhile, Lenny (Jack Black), a self-proclaimed vegetarian shark and son of Don Lino (Robert De Niro), the kingpin Godfather of sharks, is learning to hunt from his brother Frankie (Michael Imperioli). Frankie sees Oscar tied up and being tortured by the Rasta-jellyfish and tries to kill Oscar to show Lenny how to eat fish. Frankie is gored by a falling anchor and Lenny swims away for fear of being blamed for his brother's death. The Rasta-jellyfish return and see Oscar on a dead shark, and proclaim him "Oscar the Shark-Slayer."

The movie becomes rather one-tracked from here, with many more Godfather jokes jammed into a story that has no major plot twists, and no big surprises. The primary problem with Shark Tale is its predictability. After Angie (Renée Zellweger), another fish, gives Oscar a pearl to pay off his debts and delivers a mushy, over-sentimental speech, the entire plot becomes clear: Oscar will become rich and famous, but he will lose his real identity and the respect of all of his friends. When Oscar goes down to, of all places, the racetracks with a bag full of "clams" (ocean currency—just like the Rasta jellyfish, the reason the directors chose clams as currency is a mystery) to pay off his debt, his failure is inevitable; he is going to lose his money, and neither he nor anyone else can stop it. This is a microcosm of Oscar's fate in the movie—he constantly fails at life until he starts telling the truth. Since this lesson (a moral, it seems, perhaps taken from Aesop's Fables) is presented so early in the movie, there is almost no room for variation, and the movie becomes stagnant.

The great tragedy of Shark Tale is the waste of stellar acting performances. While first-class acting cannot overcome a shoddy script, these actors certainly make a valiant effort. De Niro and Black are the standouts as the antithetical father and son. Their relationships and interactions with each other and other sharks are absolutely hilarious, and, unlike all of the other running jokes in the movie, they stay fresh simply because of the actors.

Shark Tale is like that project you did the night before it was due: all surface, no substance. If you do choose to waste your $8.50 on the movie, however, bring a paper bag, because you may get seasick.

Shark Tale (92 minutes) is rated PG for mild obscenity and crude humor.

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