‘Shark Tale’ dead in the water

Too many chefs spoil the broth. “Shark Tale,” the new computer-animated movie from Dreamworks Animation, is a prime example of that aphorism becoming reality.

“Shark Tale” is the story of Oscar (Will Smith), a fast-talking, hip-hopping, misguided but loveable fish who finds himself in trouble with the shark mafia that terrorizes the reef he lives in. Through a series of strange coincidences, Oscar convinces everyone that he has killed a shark and gains instant popularity. Unfortunately, the shark he supposedly killed was the son of Don Lino, the shark Godfather (Robert DeNiro). The movie also has a couple of predictable subplots involving other sea life voiced by celebrities not worth mentioning.

“Shark Tale” seems to have everything it needs to be successful: sly pop culture references, a star-studded cast, attractive images and a big closing musical number. But the plot is predictable and uninspired.

“Shark Tale” attempts to cash in on the success of Disney’s “Finding Nemo,” which is about fish living like people. “Finding Nemo” involved sharks that are trying not to be killers, and the primary shark character in “Shark Tales” was Lenny (Jack Black), a vegetarian shark. Why set the movie underwater if not to remind audiences of “Finding Nemo”? Nothing in the gangster movie plot demanded that the movie be underwater. The difference between the “Shark Tale” and “Finding Nemo” is that “Finding Nemo” had a lot of heart and creators knew the target audience was children. “Shark Tale” is confused about its target audience.

A few years ago, children’s movies started including a lot of clever innuendoes and subtle jokes aimed at the adult audience. That’s good, but “Shark Tale” focuses almost entirely on its adult audience and leaves nothing for children. Its humor comes almost entirely from references to movies, often R-rated, and pop culture jokes that would sail over many children’s heads. For example, there is a fish newscaster named Katie Current (voiced by the real Katie Couric). How many 8-year-olds know who Katie Couric is? The story is an adult story about adult fish dealing with adult problems. The only child characters in the movie are a trio of neighborhood kids that occupy maybe five minutes of screen time.

I’m not familiar with the movie’s three producers, one executive producer, and three directors. Why does this movie need so many producers and directors? No circumstances in filmmaking necessitate having three directors, and the directing trio on “Shark Tale” probably accounts for the film’s lack of a unifying artistic vision. And yes, children’s movies can and should have unifying artistic visions.

Jack Black’s performance as Lenny was impressive because I didn’t realize it was Jack Black until I watched the credits. He has a very distinctive voice and I expected him to show up as some outrageous fish, possibly a rocker, but he was the meek, friendly shark. He did an admirable job of playing a character without letting his personality corrupt the film. Angelina Jolie’s character, Lola, was an extremely sexy fish. I’ve never been sexually attracted to an animated fish before, and this was an interesting experience for me.

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Do not waste your time with “Shark Tale,” even if you have children to take. It’s not a good children’s movie, its not a good gangster movie, it’s not really anything but a transparent attempt to cash in on the success of infinitely better computer-animated children’s movies. “Shark Tale” is all flash, big names and feeble jokes with no real substance.