Shark Tale 

2 Stars

2 Stars
I plan to rant about this movie at length so, for those of you in a hurry, here's the short version. From the folks that brought you Shrek and its sequel comes Shark Tale, a computer-animated story set in an undersea world of hip-hop fishies and gangster sharks. The film shares a locale with Finding Nemo, but has none of its magic. Gaudy, crass and abrasive, Shark Tale is simply "product" designed to tap into the underserved family market. Sadly, parents starved for something new for the kids will likely make this a big hit, but not nearly as big as previous (and better) major studio CGI offerings. Nemo used its technology to create a richly detailed undersea world, with water that looked dense and was filled with matter and motion. Shark Tale, clearly operating on a lower budget, is content to indicate the liquid setting by periodically displaying clusters of bubbles in the background. Where Nemo used its palette artfully, Shark Tale flings colors haphazardly - the results are garish. The humor in Nemo is character based, while Shark Tale tries to milk laughs mostly out of puns and pop culture references. While I recognize the cleverness of some puns, they rarely make me smile. (FYI: Movie critics that pepper their reviews with puns - crap like, "Shark Tale is finn-tastic!" - should be flogged.) The heavy use of pop culture references is annoying and odd. Annoying because it used to be understood that family films that keep a sense of timelessness can be watched by many generations, while pop culture references can quickly make a movie seem dated (the practice started changing with the release of Disney's Aladdin). Odd because many of the references here are either a bit dated already (MC Hammer?!) or likely to become dated fast (I doubt that Jessica Simpson will be remembered over the ages). Shark Tale also uses some toilet humor (hey, what's a contemporary family film without toilet humor?), slapstick and stereotyping in its quest for giggles. A smattering of the jokes are successful. As for the stereotyping, see what you notice in the following plot description. Young Lenny (Jack Black) the Shark embarrasses his family with his gentle nature and refusal to eat meat. Make that Family with a capital "F," because papa Don Lino (Robert De Niro) and big brother Frankie (Michael Imperioli) - who sound like Italian-Americans - are, get ready for this, mobsters. Oscar (Will Smith), who works for the Whale Wash, is a dreamer with many failed get-rich-quick schemes behind him. He owes money for those failures to his boss, a jittery puffer fish named Sykes (Martin Scorsese). When the Italian-American-accented Sykes orders his henchmen, a pair of Rastafarian (stoners, of course) jellyfish (Ziggy Marley and Doug E. Doug) to take Oscar deep in the ocean and make him pay for his failures, the trio runs into Lenny and Frankie, who are out on a hunt to prove Lenny's masculinity. During the encounter, a dropped anchor from above accidentally kills Frankie and social-climber Oscar takes credit for slaying the enforcer. Oscar becomes a hero and media darling at the Reef, endorsing products (cue the product placement puns), living large with his fellow status-seeking, shallow young cohorts and landing in a romantic triangle with old flame Angie (Renee Zellweger) and hot-to-trot dragonfish Lola (Angelina Jolie). To keep the myth alive, his grateful new pal Lenny lets Oscar pretend to kill him in a fake battle. But then Lenny's papa shows up, ready for vengeance. The voice work is generally serviceable with two notable exceptions. For most of the movie, Robert De Niro sounds like someone doing an impression of Robert De Niro, and Will Smith's likeability doesn't come across in cartoon form. Perhaps the scenes of him telling lame jokes and then working the crowd ("Hey, you love it, you know that you do!"). Actually, that's what the whole film does. Shark Tale presents subpar family entertainment and then dances around telling us how much we love it. But I don't and I doubt you will either.

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