Shark Tale
dir. Jenson, Bergeron, Letterman
Opens Fri Oct 1
Various Theaters

C'mon, you know it already: Shark Tale isn't even half the fun of that other computer animated fish flick, Finding Nemo.

Is that Shark Tale's fault? Well, yes and no. Nemo, from the nearly infallible Pixar (Toy Story, A Bug's Life), was pretty amazing. But could DreamWorks' Shark Tale still have been decent? Sure--but it isn't.

In a reef where fish live in coral skyscrapers and cower from a shark-run mafia, Oscar (voiced by Will Smith) is a lowly nobody. But when an accident makes it look like he's killed a shark, Oscar brags his way to the top--even teaming up with the subtextually gay Lenny (Jack Black), a vegetarian shark, to cement his image as a shark slayer. Romance (with Angelina Jolie and Renée Zellweger), mafia politics (thanks to Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese), and more mayhem predictably ensue.

Following their Shrek formula, DreamWorks loads up Shark Tale with an all-star cast (even going so far as to caricature their voice actors--everything from Scorsese's eyebrows to Zellweger's perpetually squinty eyes has been disconcertingly adapted to undersea life). But the two biggest comedic opportunities are squandered: Smith merely recycles his Fresh Prince schtick, while Black's stuck doing a whiny, high-pitched yowl.

Instead of utilizing its cast, Shark Tale decides to use puns--yep, puns--for its humor. The fish shop at "Old Wavy." They drink "Coral-Cola" and eat "Kelpy Kremes." They use "shell phones." I'll stop there, but the movie never does. (The entire film revels in pop culture overkill--and unfocused overkill at that. Kids won't get the Goodfellas and Sopranos references, and parents will cringe at the Radio Disney-friendly music from Christina Aguilera and Mary J. Blige.)

Maybe I'm being too hard on Shark Tale. There are worse films out there, and certainly worse ones for kids. But then again, most of those were made before Pixar showed up. DreamWorks' desperate attempts to out-hype and out-laugh their rival are quickly proving more annoying than worthwhile, and while Shark Tale's sure to rake in countless billions in tickets and merchandise, it's more useful as the cinematic equivalent of an after school snack--something quick, easy, and forgettable that'll tide the kids over until Pixar's next release.