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by Willie Waffle

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The Life Aquatic
With Steve Zissou

After last year's Oscar race, it looked like Bill Murray and Johnny Depp might be going toe-to-toe, mano a mano for Best Actor again this year. Depp's Finding Neverland was wonderful (my favorite movie of the year), and previous movies from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou's co-writer/director Wes Anderson have been so good, which made waiting to see this movie even more difficult. However, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou didn't come through for Murray like Finding Neverland did for Depp. Even the title is overly pretentious.

Murray stars as Steve Zissou - a once famous sea explorer who makes documentaries about his adventures and journeys. His movies used to be highly anticipated, his adventures captivated imaginations, he had endorsement deals like a top athlete, and kids everywhere wanted to be part of his club, but Zissou's career has been in a slow slide for several years. Making things worse, on his latest mission, he sadly watched as his right hand man/best friend was eaten by the mysterious Jaguar Shark. In the name of revenge, Zissou has pledged to find the shark and kill it. However, the mission will be more complicated than that.

Can Zissou find the shark? Can he get funding for the mission? Can he make the movie about the mission into a success?

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a comedy that isn't lovable, and not always funny. The film is very prickly, and full of offbeat humor that isn't welcoming to anyone who doesn't buy into the cold, wooden tone. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou still has some very funny moments, but the mix of drama and comedy never feels right.

Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach have crafted an interesting story about Zissou including his life full of regrets; the introduction of an illegitimate Zissou son, Ned (Owen Wilson), who wants to know his father; the jealousy of another crew member, Klaus (the hilarious Willem Dafoe); and some nice verbal sparring between the press hungry Zissou and a reporter, Jane (Cate Blanchett). However, the movie never seems to find its stride, and often loses focus. As Zissou chases his shark (the movie's true drama which doesn't get fully explored and has most of the teeth taken out of it early in the movie), the team and audience are too often distracted and pulled off on other missions. You start to forget about the shark hunt, even if this is supposed to be symbolic of something I couldn't decipher.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, every good moment is followed by one that doesn't work or makes you question why it's in the movie. For example, they find a downed plane, but where did it come from? What will happen to it? Another example is the script girl, Ann Marie (Robyn Cohen), who appears topless throughout the first half of the movie, then starts wearing clothes for no reason. Why the big change to a quirky characteristic?

Left with a mixed bag of a story, Murray does his best to make it work. Through it all, he makes Zissou into an interesting, complex character who elicits the audience's pity and ire. Murray shows Zissou's selfishness in hilarious ways, especially with the boat's interns and his treatment of Ned, which is equally loving and demeaning. The approach leaves you feeling Zissou has an aloofness, which explains his actions, and makes it funny.

Sadly, Anderson's reliance on cheap looking animation was the facet of the film that pushed me from mildly liking it to mildly not liking it. Some of my fellow critics have proposed Anderson went for the fake look to add to the film's comedy and unreal feel, but I found it distracting. The scenes with real animals are more entertaining because I wasn't distracted by the fakeness of it all. In a more farcical movie, the cheap animation would be part of the fun, but it looks rushed and out of place in this one.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a disappointment (you thought I'd say it was a sinking ship, didn't you?).

2 Waffles (Out Of 4)

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