The 90-minute Shark Tale is a pop culture-riddled display that’s not unlike Dreamworks’ own Shrek franchise, though not nearly as good. Throwing jokes and film allusions at you left and right, the film is a hyperactive, second-rate cousin of the more lucrative green ogre franchise. Refusing to slow down for even a minute, the whole experience can range from funny to irritating, even in the same scene.
What other film can throw out references to Godfather, Jaws, Gladiator, Goodfellas and Jerry Maguire just because it feels like it? I wouldn’t be surprised if there were countless other remarks missed only because this flick has the attention span of an infant. By the time you’ve finished laughing at one joke, it has surely shot a handful of others at you.
The movie is definitely of the mindset that it’s better to throw absolutely everything at the wall and see what sticks.
This film is not a retread of Finding Nemo. The only things these two films have in common are the fish, and even they look entirely different. Instead of the realism Finding Nemo employed, Shark Tale looks like it’s been drenched in paint to create vivid, eye-catching colors, and the fish have been molded after their Hollywood counterparts. The film even takes place in an underwater New York, complete with billboard ads.
This film isn’t short on star power. It shamelessly boasts an impressive gathering of voices, including Will Smith, Jack Black, Renee Zellweger, Angelina Jolie, Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese. But its stars are exactly the reason why Dreamworks will never match Pixar. They rely too heavily on their stars to invent characters that will be interesting to watch, while Pixar knows what really matters is the storyline. The story here just isn’t up to Pixar standards.
Oscar (Will Smith) is a lowly bottom-of-the-food-chain fish with dreams of reaching “the top of the reef.” When his scheme for fame falls flat on its face quite literally in an underwater seahorse race, his boss/money loaner Sykes (Martin Scorsese) has him tied up and left for shark food.
The sharks that come across him first are Lenny (Jack Black) and Frankie (Michael Imperioli). Lenny is a conflicted, vegetarian shark who tries to set Oscar free until Frankie realizes it and an underwater chase begins. The chase ends with Frankie struck by an anchor and Oscar taking credit for being the “sharkslayer.”
Problem is, Frankie was the son of Don Lino (Robert De Niro, in the Godfather role) and obviously, he wants revenge. Meanwhile, Oscar is catapulted to his undeserved fame and fortune.
The performances are uneven, much like the film. Renee Zellweger has a nice supporting performance as Angie, Oscar’s friend with a crush. Angelina Jolie shows up in an unassuming way as the temptress, Lola, and Will Smith and Jack Black are sparingly funny, although I can’t tell whether Jack Black is purposely making Lenny mentally-challenged or that’s just the way the performance came off. And if there’s such a thing as a lazy voice performance, Robert De Niro pulled it off. He hits none of the notes he once was capable of to make his mafia boss intimidating.
As a film, Shark Tale isn’t anything special. I’d recommend waiting on the next Pixar masterpiece, The Incredibles, opening Nov. 5.
Brian Mulligan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.