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Shark Tale
2004 - PG - 90 Mins.
Director: Rob Letterman, Bibo Bergeron, Vicky Jenson
Producer: Janet Healy
Written By: Rob Letterman, Michael J. Wilson
Starring: Will Smith, Jack Black, Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Renee Zellweger, Angelina Jolie, Doug E. Doug
Review by: Joe Rickey
Official Site: www.sharktale.com
   

He sure can be crabby.
Mediocre in the extreme, ‘Shark Tale’ is an uneven exercise in the mixing of adult humor with kid-friendly sensibilities a la ‘Shrek’ in a story of one man’s (one fish's?) search for fame and his later realization that such a lifestyle is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Residing in an underwater city clearly modeled in uninspiring fashion after New York, Oscar (Voiced by Will Smith), a self-absorbed leech of a fish, spends his days dreaming of all the luxuries fame and fortune could bring to his life if he wasn’t stuck working at the local Car (well, Whale) Wash. He often slacks off at work as a result of his constant daydreaming. Only his loyal friend, Angie (Renee Zellweger), secretly harboring a crush on him, has allowed him to remain employed by making sure he gets at least some work done.

When Oscar foolishly bets and subsequently loses some of his boss’ (Martin Scorsese) money on a long shot at the (sea) horse racetrack, it appears to be the end of the line for the foolhardy Oscar. Then something seemingly miraculous happens: Oscar is given credit for killing a shark that actually was felled by an anchor from above. He is then deemed “The Sharkslayer” (This was the original title for the film before Dreamworks went with the more family-friendly moniker). Everything appears to change for Oscar as he becomes famous almost instantaneously.

A problem soon arises though in the form of crime kingpin and father of the dead shark, Don Lino (Robert De Niro) who, not surprisingly wants revenge. Oscar gains an unwitting ally in Lino’s other son, the black sheep of the family, Lenny (Jack Black) as their fates inevitably lead to a confrontation with Lino and his gang of thugs.

‘Shark Tale’ is at its best when it makes light of pop culture/Hollywood clichés such as the main storyline being a riff on the modern mobster film, complete with some great casting in the form of Robert De Niro, Michael Imperioli (“The Sopranos” TV series), and Peter Falk. The film even goes as far in its parody as having De Niro’s shark differentiated by a mole on his right cheek, ala the actor voicing the character. Nods are also made to such enterprises as Coca-Cola (Coral-Cola here), Gap (Gup here), and the film ‘Scarface’ (The line “Say hello to my little friend(s)” is uttered by a shrimp).

What does not work in the film is Will Smith who manages to give perhaps his most grating performance in years. His Oscar is supposed to be a self-absorbed but Smith takes it to such extremes, that Oscar rapidly gets on your nerves. The film also struggles whenever it seems to remember that it is supposed to be a family film, inserting random scenes in which characters learn lessons about life. These scenes drag on for interminable lengths, not likely to engage any viewers, no matter the age.

After consideration of all its strengths (inspired casting, some funny one-liners, etc) and all its weaknesses (insipid voice acting by Will Smith, awkward “moral” scenes), one comes to the conclusion that ‘Shark Tale’ is a rather vanilla entry in the rapidly expanding genre of computer animation.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

 
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