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Thursday, Sept. 30, 2004 01:48 pm

movie review

Shark Tale

A rotten fish tale

It's inevitable that Shark Tale, the latest animated effort from DreamWorks Animation, will be compared to Finding Nemo. The biggest-grossing animated film to date, until DreamWorks' own Shrek 2 came along, Nemo was fresh and funny, sporting a grand tale of adventure coupled with a heartwarming story of familial love and devotion. Given that success, it's easy to see why directors Bibo Bergeron, Vicky Jenson, and Rob Letterman would want to jump into the pool with their own undersea effort, borrowing the locale yet fashioning a distinctive tale of their own.

However, they should have also sponged a bit of Nemo's wit and ability to create distinctive characters rather than simply animated counterparts of the celebrities whose voices bring them to life. Shark Tale is everything Finding Nemo is not. It's unimaginative and obvious, features a plot that longs to be complex but is simply ridiculous, and -- in what should be the kiss of death, especially for a kids' film -- is dull and repetitious.

Will Smith provides the voice of Oscar, a fast-talking fish who has dreams of escaping his dead-end job of tongue-scrubber at the local Whale Wash and living at the top of the reef. He gets his chance when a series of bizarre circumstances makes it appear as though he's killed Frankie (Michael Imperioli), a great white shark who happens to be the son of local mob boss Don Lino (Robert De Niro). Nothing could be further from the truth, but Oscar milks this opportunity for all it's worth, becoming famous throughout the reef and rich beyond his wildest dreams. However, things start to unravel when Frankie's brother Lenny (Jack Black) shows up. A vegetarian who can never live up to his father's expectations, Lenny threatens to reveal the truth behind Oscar's ruse unless Oscar helps him go into hiding. Needless to say, complications ensue.

The laughs are few and far between as the film's four writers make the mistake of thinking that the many allusions to other, far better films they cram in here are a worthy substitute for genuine humor. Some nods -- to Jaws, The Godfather, and Titanic -- are obvious, but other references -- particularly one from Jerry Maguire, included in deference to Renée Zellweger, who is heard as Angie, an angelfish who secretly pines for Oscar -- stick out like a sore thumb.

The voice talent does a fine job of bringing a sense of enthusiasm to the parts, particularly Martin Scorsese an easily frustrated puffer fish and Angelina Jolie as Lola, a dragonfish femme fatale. However, in the end, Tale is as flat as its players are energetic. To say otherwise would simply be another fish story.

Also in theaters this week. . .

Alien vs. Predator [PG-13] This pairing of 20th Century-Fox alien-creature franchises has been threatened for years, but there is no direct link to either series. Lance Henriksen stars as an industrialist who uncovers both races during an archaeological dig in Antarctica. White Oaks

Cellular [PG-13] A young man (Chris Evans) gets a call from a woman (Kim Basinger) who claims she was kidnapped, fears she'll be killed, and doesn't know where she is. And his battery may die! ShowPlace West

A Cinderella Story [PG] Routinely mistreated by her stepmother, Sam Martin (Hilary Duff) looks forward to meeting her Internet beau at a Halloween dance. White Oaks

The Door in the Floor [R]The once-great marriage of famous children's book author Ted Cole (Jeff Bridges) and his beautiful wife Marion (Kim Basinger) is strained by tragedy. She's despondent; he cheats. Then they hire a young man who transforms their lives. Parkway Pointe

Festival Express [R]Rock & roll flick from 1970, filmed an across-Canada train trip of Janis Joplin, the Band, the Grateful Dead, and other bands.Parkway Pointe

First Daughter [PG] The president (Michael Keaton) accedes to his daughter's request to attend college without Secret Service protection. On the sly, he assigns an agent. Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East

The Forgotten [PG-13] When a single mother (Julianne Moore) loses her 8-year-old son in an airplane crash, she seeks out psychiatric help in order to cope with her grief. Instead, she's told her son never existed. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Hero [PG-13] Zhang Yimou's award-winning and Oscar-nominated period epic stars Jet Li as an assassin who seeks revenge against the emperor who murdered his family. ShowPlace West

I, Robot [PG-13] Set in the year 2035, Chicago police detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) investigates a murder that may have been committed by a robot. White Oaks

Ladder 49 [PG-13] A firefighter, trapped in a fire that's likely to kill him, reviews his life. Joaquin Phoenix and John Travolta star. Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East

The Manchurian Candidate [R] A political thriller about a soldier (Denzel Washington) who was captured by the enemy in the Korean War (this time it's the Gulf War) and brainwashed to be used later as a pawn. Parkway Pointe

Mr. 3000 [PG-13] A retired baseball star, nicknamed "Mr. 3000," who finds out he didn't quite reach 3,000 hits. At age 47, he tries to reach that goal. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Napoleon Dynamite [PG] The title character is an odd Idaho teenager whose great loves are dancing and the ways of the ninja. Parkway Pointe

The Notebook [PG-13]Two young lovers from different backgrounds are separated when the U.S. enters World War II. Seven years later, she is engaged to a soldier when she discovers the whereabouts of her first true love.Parkway Pointe

Resident Evil: Apocalypse [R] Alice (Milla Jovovich) must escape from a city of the dead before the killer Nemesis gets her. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Shrek 2 [PG] Princess Fiona's parents invite her and Shrek to dinner to celebrate her marriage, not realizing that the newlyweds are green ogres. White Oaks

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow [PG] The world's top scientists start disappearing as giant flying robots descend on New York City in 1939. Reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) teams up with ace pilot Joe "Sky Captain" Sullivan (Jude Law) to stop the mad man behind this calamity. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Wimbledon [PG-13] A pro tennis player [Paul Bettany] meets a young player on the women's circuit [Kristen Dunst] who helps him regain his focus for Wimbleton. ShowPlace West

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