Something Smells Fishy with "Shark Tale"
- Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Release Date: October 1, 2004
Rating: PG (for some mild language and crude humor)
Run Time: 1 hr. 30 min.
Director: Bibo Bergeron, Vicky Jenson, Rob Letterman
Actors: Will Smith, Robert DeNiro, Renee Zellweger, Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Martin Scorsese
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a little seasick from all the films that claim to be for kids but instead promote adult issues. And can we please have a rest from all the tolerance and diversity preaching? Oy vey – just because it’s a fish movie doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.
Oscar (Will Smith) is a hip-hop hustler who longs for life’s bling-bling, like a penthouse at the top of the reef, beautiful women and enough clams to buy whatever he wants. Oscar’s job at the whale wash pays a pittance, however, so he borrows from Sykes the Blowfish (Martin Scorsese), a small-time gangster who doesn’t hesitate to threaten Oscar when the debts come due. Fortunately, Oscar’s best friend Angie (Renee Zellweger) gives up her mother’s pink pearl, which brings in enough clams to pay off Sykes. But old Oscar can’t resist another gamble: he loses it all at the races, then finds himself in the hands of Syke’s Jamaican henchmen (Doug E. Doug and Ziggy Marley).
Meanwhile, there’s trouble in Don Lino’s (Robert De Niro) household. As the great white shark at the top of the reef’s food chain, the Don controls everything and everyone – except his son, Lenny (Jack Black), a vegetarian. “You see something, you kill it, you eat it,” says the Don, in his best godfather accent. “That’s what sharks do – it’s a fine tradition.” But Lenny can’t even dive into his shrimp cocktail, which prompts Dad to send him on a kill-and-eat mission. Instead, Lenny’s brother Frankie (Michael Imperioli, “The Sopranos”) is crushed by a falling anchor, right in front of Oscar and his Rastafarian tormentors, who made the mistake of turning their jellyfish heads.
Oscar seizes the opportunity and declares that he killed Frankie, to the astonishment of the gathering crowd. But they buy it, and soon, Oscar’s got an agent and is making the talk-show rounds – as “The Shark Slayer.” He forgets, of course, that the Mob always gets revenge, and this time is no exception. The Don’s coming after Oscar, who is about to sleep with the fishes. Fortunately, Lenny has a plan that may get them both off the hook.
Now isn’t this the most lovely children’s story? I wonder what Dreamworks will come up with next – Winnie the Pooh trying to escape from drug dealers?
This studio has been matching Pixar’s CGI-animated hits ever since Pixar launched the genre with its hugely successful “Toy Story” in 1995, and they can make very good films. When Pixar released “A Bug’s Life,” Dreamworks released “Antz!,” followed by a slew of hits from both studios. Now, Dreamworks is trying to piggyback on the heels of its own “Shrek” phenomenon while imitating Pixar’s inimitable “Finding Nemo.” Sadly, “Shark Tale” is but a stale reproduction of both.
It has moments that will make you smile, like the street signs for “Swim” and “Don’t Swim,” “Tuna History Month” and the “Prawn Shop.” And the acting is good – how could it not be, with these stars? Will Smith is silly and stupid, which will make kids laugh, and Renee Zellweger plays her usual sweet role. Angelina Jolie is her habitual sex-kitten self. And Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and all the “Soprano” stars are brilliant as Mafiosi (I particularly loved Vincent Pastore as the oily octopus right-hand man). But in the end, everything seems overdone. It’s as if the film is so anxious to be funny – and make a box office splash – that it shoots itself in the fin. It comes across as desperate, as if the producers were the ones holding the gun to someone’s head – not the sharks.
The film’s lack of imagination shows in “Shrek”-recycled humor (“GUP” for “GAP” and “Coral-Cola”) as well as a bunch of film references, including “The Godfather,” “Jerry Maguire” and “A Few Good Men,” which worked in “Shrek,” but do not work this second time around. We’re also treated to the usual staid-and-stupid poop jokes. But, when we go to these films and laugh – and we do, by the droves – we tend to lose our right to complain about this subject. Even when it tries to be serious and to teach kids a nice moral lesson, however, “Shark Tale” falls incredibly flat. “You don’t have to live at the top of the reef to be somebody,” Angie tells Oscar. Really? You mean I don’t have to be a mobster for people to love me?
Kid's movie, they say? Whatever. Totally apart from the mob/gambling/revenge theme, the soundtrack is either dated ("Carwash") or inappropriate (foul-mouthed rapper Ludacris singing about golddiggers). And there are no role models whatsoever. Oscar learns a lesson, but he's still a sleaze-ball, and everyone else is an immoral caricature. We’ve got the African Americans who work at the car (whale) wash and who hustle everyone. The Italian Americans who kill everyone. The Rastafarian Jamaicans who smoke pot (we don’t actually see this, but their brains are so fried that it’s a foregone conclusion). And, of course, we’ve got the token homosexual. For, what else could Lenny be, with his makeup, scarf and tool belt? Why else would he go to work singing in a cabaret, after moaning about being “different” and not “accepted” for “who he is?”
So, maybe I’m missing the boat, but something smells fishy when a feel-good message about tolerance and diversity is muddied by the waters of cliché and stereotype. It’s subverted logic, to be sure. “Shark Tale” will definitely make people laugh, and I realize there aren’t many children’s films to choose from, but my advice is to throw this one back.
- Drugs/Alcohol Content: Background drinking in restaurants and at party.
- Language/Profanity: Scatological humor and “disguised” profanities e.g. “Who in the Halibut trips underwater?” and “Get your tail in there!”
- Sexual Content/Nudity: Sexy female fish “comes on” to male fish, making mildly suggestive comments; kissing; character appears to be homosexual by dress, intonation and language, although this is never discussed.
- Violence: Threat of violence from Mafia – particularly death – is evident throughout film in several scenes, imitating gangster/mob films. Fish are threatened, tortured (by jellyfish who sting him repeatedly) and chased by sharks with clear fear of death. Fish and shark have fake fight, with shark plummeting to a faked death.
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