If you've ever pondered how many aquatic puns could be crammed into one animated film, "Shark Tale" is for you. Readers will have to forgive me for not actually counting -- my brain began cramping as I tried to make all the marks in my little reviewer's notebook. After all, there are only so many "shell phone" and "scallop poll" jokes one man can take, but I stayed for the halibut.
Oscar (Will Smith) is a small fish in a big ocean with dreams of success. He works in a whale wash (where there are actual turtle waxes), but he wants something better so he can move "to the top of the reef." Oscar works at the wash with Angie (Renée Zellweger) and while he thinks that they're just friends, Angie pines for Oscar harder than a frozen fish stick, setting up one of the many moments that scream "derivative" louder than a drunk at a David Schwimmer film festival.
Oscar's problems start when a debt to Sykes (Martin Scorsese) for 5,000 clams gets beyond his control. He's looking for an answer when he runs into a couple of Mafia sharks, Lenny (Jack Black) and Frankie (Michael Imperioli). Lenny is a vegetarian and trying to stay out of the family business, so when Frankie is killed by a falling anchor, Lenny hides out while Oscar is dubbed the "shark slayer." In the short term, this solves a lot of Oscar's problems by making him rich and famous.
Unfortunately, fame isn't all it's cracked up to be. There are the constant interview requests from reporter Katie Current (Katie Couric), sudden interest from suspicious fish Lola (Angelina Jolie), and exposure in such publications as Newsreef magazine that makes Oscar easily locatable by Don Lino (Robert De Niro), Lenny's dad. There are also tired sighs from audience members as the film delivers more recycled jokes than "comedy night" in an Alzheimer's ward.
This movie's fondness for aquatic puns is matched only by its fondness for Mafia references. Let's just say it beats a dead sea horse. In fact, almost everything in "Shark Tale" smacks of a desperate attempt to both distance the film from "Finding Nemo" and appeal in some way to every possible potential marketing demographic. It's satire with an edge so dull that anybody can touch it.
While there's eventually something you'll laugh at in "Shark Tale," the effect of being bombarded by stale joke after stale joke is like having one's head held under water for too long.
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