** (out of 5)
October 1, 2004
Will Smith as OSCAR
Robert DeNiro as DON LINO
Renee Zellweger as ANGIE
Jack Black as LENNY
Angelina Jolie as LOLA
Martin Scorsese as SYKES
Directed by: Bibo Bergeron, Vicky Jenson and Rob Letterman
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Over the last few years, we have seen the demise of feature-length ink-and-paint animation. Disney once ruled this roost, but ever since their feature animation budgets have skyrocketed past $100 million, it’s been hard to have a hit. Several years ago, DreamWorks threw their hat in the ring and scored big with “The Prince of Egypt.” However, subsequent films like “The Road to El Dorado,” “Spirit: The Stallion of the Cimarron” and “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas” proved to be disappointing at best.
The only place where these two studios have seen unbridled animation success is in their computer generated features. Disney cleaned up last year with Pixar’s “Finding Nemo” and DreamWorks hit it big this summer with “Shrek 2.” Unfortunately, people seem to forget the old adage that whatever goes up must come down. So far, there hasn’t been a CGI flop for the big boys. But now their latest effort, the lukewarm “Shark Tale,” might be a sign of a CGI animation implosion.
“Shark Tale” tells the story of Lenny (Jack Black), a shark with a conscious. He leaves his family to avoid being drug into their life of killing. Lenny ends up crossing paths with Oscar (Will Smith), a colorful reef fish trying to impress his girlfriend. (Ultimately, the story belongs to Oscar, but “Colorful Reef Fish Tale” just isn’t as sexy of a name as “Shark Tale.”) The two come up with a scheme where Oscar will pretend to slay Lenny, thus making his family think he’s dead. Oscar’s big advantage from this is become the most famous fish on the reef – a real sharkslayer.
Initially, I didn’t like “Finding Nemo.” In fact, if you read my review of that film, you might find this “animation implosion” diatribe above somewhat familiar. However, I am the father of two young boys, and after watching “Finding Nemo” nine million times, I must admit the film has grown on me.
Unfortunately, I don’t predict the same feelings for “Shark Tale.” I took my three year old son Liam to see this film. Normally, Liam is great in movies. I’ve raised him right to be a film fan like his old man. But even Liam didn’t sit still through “Shark Tale,” though he made it through plenty of other kids films like “Scooby Doo 2,” “Benji Off the Leash” and “Good Boy” without a hitch.
In general, the cast is pretty good, featuring some awesome bit parts by Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorcese. But the film breaks down with its leads. The weakest link in the chain is Oscar, voiced by Will Smith. While I generally like Smith as an actor, I will be the first to admit that sometimes he’s good in a movie, but when he stinks, he really stinks… and in “Shark Tale,” he stinks.
Smith really, really, really tries too hard. He’s not natural, and his performance channels his insincere characters from “Wild, Wild West” and “Men in Black II,” with a little bit of Cuba Gooding, Jr. from “Home on the Range” to add insult to injury.
Jack Black, one of the most horrendously overrated actors today, is dreadful as Lenny the good shark. His performance is vacuous. There’s no passion. He could have just phoned in his lines. And then there’s Angelina Jolie as the swimming sexpot Lola. She’s clearly continuing her losing streak, having not done a decent flick since the first “Tomb Raider” (which wasn’t even that great, anyway).
I wanted to like “Shark Tale.” It looked like a lot of fun. There are plenty of subtle gags in the background that helped make “Shrek” work. And visually, it’s stunning. But the look of a film has never been a problem with this computer generated stuff. “Shark Tale” breaks down with the characters. I found nothing likeable in any of them, and our hero Oscar has no depth at all, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Movies like “Finding Nemo” and “Shrek” have lovable characters with good, strong fiber. They may be neurotic like Marlin the clown fish, cantankerous like Shrek or flighty like Donkey or Dorey. But they have heart. With all the proprietary software that will emulate fabric, water and textures in the CGI world, it’s too bad they haven’t written a program that will spit out good characters and a good story, ‘cause that’s what “Shark Tale” is sorely lacking.