Movies — Shark Tale (PG)

Shark Tale (PG)

- Amy Diaz

A stacked deck of actors (Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, Jack Black, Will Smith, Rene Zellweger, Angelina Jolie, Michael Imperioli and Katie Couric) nonetheless lose this hand for DreamWorks in the animated movie Shark Tale, the latest salvo in the ongoing DreamWorks- versus-Pixar computer animation battle.

Though the movie’s heaviest hitter is the shark godfather Don Lino (De Niro) its hero is a little fish named Oscar (Smith). An employee at the reef’s Whale Wash, Oscar has dreams of bigger things and, in unsuccessful pursuit of them, finds himself in debt to the wash’s owner, Sykes (Scorsese). On the hook for the money to the shark gangsters, Sykes has his jellyfish henchmen take Oscar out for a leave-the-stinger-take-the-cannoli-style trip to the edge of the reef. Luckily for Oscar, his execution is stalled by the arrival of Don Lino’s two sons, the bloodthirsty Frankie (Imperioli) and the sweet Lenny (Black). Frankie tells Lenny to eat Oscar, Lenny demurs and during a scuffle, Frankie ends up dead as the result of a falling anchor.

However, when the sand plume clears, all Sykes’ henchmen see is a live Oscar and a dead shark and thus is born the legend of Oscar the Sharkslayer. The story turns Oscar into just the big shot he always wanted to be, much to the sadness of his friend/secret admirer Angie (Zellweger). She liked the old Oscar, and it doesn’t help that his new fame brings the likes of the golddigging Lola (Jolie).

Oscar soon learns that his stardom comes with a price, the price being that he’s expected to actually go out and kill sharks. Fortunately, the first shark he’s forced to fight is Lenny, a vegetarian who wants no part of his family’s strong-arming business. They make a deal—Lenny will help Oscar keep his sharkslayer reputation by allowing himself to be publicly “slain” and Oscar will help Lenny disguise himself as a dolphin so he can start a new herbivore life.

Leave aside that all of these characters are varying types of fish for a moment. In this kid movie, where, exactly, is the kid part of the plot? Fame, money problems, criminal activity, identity issues, romantic disappointments—cartoons have certainly changed a lot since Bambi.

DreamWorks had itself a gigantic success in Shrek and again this summer in Shrek 2. Part of what made these movies such a success, both financially and critically, was that Shrek offered plenty of sly asides and inside movie laughs for adults even as it gave kids ogres and adventure and a little story about friendship. Sure, there were plenty of other things at work—vanity, a sort of biracial romance, sticking up for the little guy. But if you were too young to understand that stuff, you still had a farting ogre and a silly donkey.  Shrek excelled by reaching the older members of the audience but it didn’t forget to entertain the youngest.

Shark Tale, on the other hand, does seem to forget that entertaining kids is its first real job here. The characters are all watered down versions of familiar adult movie types. The sharks and their mafia personas are funny only if you’ve seen The Godfather, Goodfellas or The Sopranos. Angelina Jolie is something of a fair-weather friend but her character doesn’t really make sense unless you understand what a golddigger offers in return for proximity to fortune.

It’s not that cartoons can’t have things going on at higher levels. Think of beloved Disney movie The Lion King. Take away all the singing and the animals and you’ve got a slightly amped up version of Hamlet. But even Hamlet had something for the groundlings.

Shark Tale forgets about its child audience while ultimately only mildly amusing its adult one. The result? Everybody feels like they got a little soaked.

Showing at: Flagship Cinemas, Cinemagic.

Intimate Strangers (R)

A troubled woman and a tax attorney form a strangely sensual relationship in the French movie Intimate Strangers.

Because, really, is there anything more intimate than your 1040?

Actually, Anna (Sandrine Bonnaire) doesn’t show up at William Faber’s (Fabrice Luchini) office with her yearly earnings statement and a shoebox of receipts. She shows up with a smoking-out-of-nervousness habit and a big bag of marital problems that she instantly begins to unload. She’s well into her description of a sexless, restrictive marriage before Faber realizes that she isn’t another woman looking to stop filing jointly but she’s a patient who believes she is starting psychotherapy.  Faber can’t bring himself to tell her and sets up another appointment with her. He’s embarrassed, dazzled and even a little attracted to her increasingly bizarre stories.

Anna seems to becoming increasingly amused by the quiet man who listens to and watches her so intently. As her story of a troubled childhood followed by a difficult life unfolds, we also learn about Faber’s existence. He has lived in the same flat since birth, taking over the office and the profession of his father. He dates—or rather is indifferently dated by—a woman who seems to keep him around in case the rest of her romantic endeavors don’t pan out. He lives on mute, all except for when the electric Anna comes to his office.

Intimate Strangers is very delicately constructed, very quietly acted, very intensely shot, very overly concerned with the importance of small things—in short, very French. We see events unfold primarily from Faber’s perspective and, despite a rather to-the-death timidity, he actually has quite the odd sense of humor. He’s obsessed with Anna, but happy to sleep with his ex-girlfriend. He’s afraid of her husband but angry at her when he learns, rather abruptly, that they may be back together.

For all that it does well, or at least interestingly, Intimate Strangers does not always keep up the tension between Anna, who may or may not be honest about the craziness in her life, and the longing but repressed Faber. Sometimes, he doesn’t seem so much like a man who is fighting to force himself to act, in however small a way, on his feelings for his “patient.” Sometimes, he just seems like someone whose leg may have fallen asleep. His timidity ceases to seem like some romantic flaw and seems more like the result of a heavy lunch or boredom.

After the movie spends quite a bit of time showing us how out-of-character it would be for William to take the reins of this or any situation, his continued inaction, though it fits the character, seems like kind of a letdown. At several occasions, the movie suggests a number of possible outcomes only to surprise us with, ha ha, nothing. How very bleak like life, the movie seems to say with its French accent.

Unfortunately, subtitles alone can’t excuse away a lack of momentum.

- Amy Diaz

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