U.S. Release Date: October 1, 2004
Distributor: DreamWorks
Director: Vicky Jenson, Rob Letterman
Writer: Rob Letterman
Producer: Janet Healy, Jeffrey Katzenberg (Executive), Allison Lyon Segan
Composer: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Will Smith (Voice), Angelina Jolie (Voice), Renee Zellweger (Voice), Jack Black (Voice), Robert DeNiro (Voice)
Running Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG (some mild language and crude humor)

The Jawsfather
by Scott Holleran

Watching Robert DeNiro spoof his Vito Corleone characterization in DreamWorks' Shark Tale isn't as much fun as it sounds, though the movie is no worse than the usual crop of computer-generated nonsense. It's all here: pop culture jokes with no bearing on the story, self-aware celebrity voiceovers, body function humor, colorful animation and a few good tunes.

By now, today's kids must be so pummeled with crude stand-up comedy masquerading as a story that they couldn't sit still for Mary Poppins if they were strapped to the seat and spoon-fed a bottle of Ritalin. Why parents take their kids to a 90-minute monologue of adult jokes instead of renting movies with childlike imagination like The Little Mermaid is as much a mystery as whatever The Matrix means. But they do and, as these episodic features go, Shark Tale's not terrible.

Will Smith is the movie's weakest link as the voice of a lazy, dishonest fish that seeks something for nothing. He wants to be rich but he hates work (he's employed at the whale wash), and Smith's worthless fish is the movie's focal point. Renee Zellweger's plain Jane fish has the hots for Smith, but he's busy loafing in the fish 'hood with tykes who spray graffiti and ditch school. She's so enamored with this loser that she lets him hawk her grandmother's priceless pearl, which he bets on a losing race, despite the fact that he's up to here in debt to a loan shark.

With a couple of fishes like these two, it's tempting to root for the sharks, who have already made a brief appearance, by way of Mr. DeNiro's godfather and his two sons, one tough guy and the other, voiced by Jack Black, a nerdy vegetarian.

Through a series of misunderstandings, Smith's hip-hop fish concocts a tall tale that he's a shark-slayer, which jettisons him to move on up in the waterworld, where Angelina Jolie's Jessica Rabbit fish stands by for some serious gold digging. Between brief bursts of plot, sprinkled with anchorless jokes, there are mini-music videos—the music's not bad for those who favor light hip-hop—and Shark Tale moves along at a snail's pace.

For full disclosure, Finding Nemo felt just as bland to these eyes, though at least Nemo looked like it took place underwater. Still, the DreamWorks animators weren't given much beyond recreating an undersea South Central, which seems designed conspicuously as a vehicle for Smith, the soundtrack talent and the joke writers, whose only directive appears to be a subscription to one of those bitchy entertainment magazines and watching hours of BET.

Black's vegan shark is the most distinctive character. When Black's Lenny is on screen, Shark Tale livens up. Black inhabits the voice and inflection like a real character, not a famous actor, but the script, which has his timid shark using extortion to get what he wants, snags him. Eventually, Mr. DeNiro does his bit in the finale—and his voice is welcome in a lighter movie—but, at that point, it couldn't matter less whether Smith's fish sinks or swims.

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