Is the fish fresh? How about fresh-frozen? Don't get your hopes up for Shark Tale, DreamWorks' colorful, manic answer to Pixar's Finding Nemo. As written by Rob Letterman and Michael J. Wilson, and directed by Letterman, Bibo Bergeron, and Vicky Jensen, Shark Tale believes it can foist off high-speed energy in the place of wit. Film fans may derive a certain perverse pleasure from watching CGI representations of Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese—as fish—bickering like an old married couple, but where, I ask, is the beef?
Unlike Finding Nemo, which took place in an essentially realistic comic universe, Shark Tale posits an undersea land where fish have elevators, plasma TVs (if they have enough clams), and "whale washes." Underfish hero Oscar (voiced by Will Smith) works at one of the latter, with unrequited Oscar-lover Angie (Renee Zellweger). While Oscar blithely rebuffs Angie, the shark mafia frets over Lenny (Jack Black), the swishy son of mob boss Lino (De Niro). After a blunt accident and finding himself on the lam from his family, Lenny pairs up with Oscar to act out phony confrontations of shark and fish. This way, Oscar gets to be a celebrated sharkslayer, and Lenny can ward off his family.
The whole thing is senseless and—though clever enough in cramming the screen with bad puns—tired. Product placements stick in the craw (Kelpy Kremes & Coral-Cola), movie references thud (the Jaws theme, again), and the gross of Titanic jokes feel misplaced. That leaves the novelty, or the rubbernecking horror, of Martin Scorsese's blowfish scammer saying, "C'mon, cabbage patch! Cabbage patch!" and wiggling his fins. Can I hear the specials?