May 12, 2006 | Comments ()

By Dustin Rowles | Film | May 12, 2006 |


White joke. Black joke. Mob joke, hey! Black joke, gay joke, Rastafarian joke, hey!

Such is the mambo joy of Shark Tale, the new DreamWorks Animation flick that not only appropriates the worst kind of stereotypes; it hijacks them at the elbows and then beats you about the head and face with the bloody stumps. But don’t worry, if you’re not bothered by offensive stereotypes, there’s plenty more about Shark Tale to dislike, namely a self-absorbed, unlikable lead fish (Oscar, voiced by Will Smith), who not only looks out only for himself, but does so with dazzlingly unfunny aplomb!

Shark Tale takes place in a reef reminiscent of a chaotic New York City, complete with a Times Square and news anchor Katie Current (Katie Couric). Oscar (Smith) is a little fish working at a whale wash, dreaming of ascending the ranks of the food-chain to become — yes! — “a big fish in an ocean.” The dream is deferred, however, because Oscar gets himself in hock to a mobster blowfish (Martin Scorcese); when Oscar loses all his money at the starfish track, the mob leaves him for dead. Fortunately for Oscar, and unfortunately for the rest of us, he manages to survive when Lenny the Shark (Jack Black) — an outcast vegetarian — ultimately saves him from his brother, Frankie (Michael Imperioli), who is subsequently killed by a falling anchor. Unsurprisingly, Oscar takes credit for Frankie’s death, ultimately gaining recognition as around the reef as the heroic Sharkslayer: Cue the faux product endorsements and the obnoxious Will Smithisms. Of course, it’s all a lie. And of course, it will all unravel on him. And, of course, someone will utter, “You had me at hello,” long before the movie is over. But, hopefully you’ll have fallen asleep by then.

The jokes in Shark Tale are not only insipid, they are older than the children who are meant to enjoy them. I mean, what seven-year old could possibly understand MC Hammer and Sir Mix-a-Lot references, and what parent could possibly care (I kept waiting for someone to do the Macarena)? Seriously, I don’t think the folks over at VH1’s I Love 1992 could have found a better target than the stale pop-culture tripe spewed by these 3-D animation characters that looked more like something out of a toothpaste commercial than a big-budget Hollywood movie.

For those of you interested in the business angle of Shark Tale, DreamWorks is hitching its wagon to to the film, expecting its success to be the lynchpin to a DreamWorks Animation IPO this fall. Given all that is riding on this film, why is it that the studio would shell out millions of dollars for A-list voices (Angelina Jolie and Renee Zellweger also pitch in) and the animation talent, but pony up only enough to get the guy responsible for Freddy vs. Jason (Damien Woody) to script this heaping pile of whale dung? (Sadder still: Freddy vs. Jason was better.) You’d think the brains behind DreamWorks would know how better to spend their money; after all, the voice talent behind the demonstrably superior Finding Nemo consisted primarily of relatively inexpensive television actors. With the sort of business acumen behind Shark Tale, one certainly has to wonder about the potential success of the DreamWorks Animation public offering. At any rate, Shark Tale is an offering I’d have been more than happy to refuse.

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.

Underwater Hell

Shark Tale / Dustin Rowles

Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()




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