With the ground- and box-office breaking legacies of Finding Nemo and Shrek ringing ominously in their ears and endless promotional tittling about rubber sharks at European film festivals under their belt, DreamWorks and a dream cast have finally delivered their treasure. Question is: does it have the adult/kiddie crossover bite of the smelly green giant? Has Spielberg's studio set sail a second animated franchise? And, more pressingly, will this review contain any more lame puns? Sad to say only one of these posers can be answered in the affirmative; while there's plenty to admire here, there's little to carp about.
It starts with the wonderful Jaws pastiche from the early teaser footage ("Stop humming that song! It gives me the creeps!"), while the film's sharks themselves are brilliantly realised, shadowy monsters with a potentially hilarious sideline as codfathers of the deep. Shame their dialogue isn't as beautifully crafted; the largely lazy gags sinking more than they swim. Could a movie featuring a smattering of Soprano types and, oh, Scorsese and De Niro (as a blabber-mouthed puffer fish and ruthless great white shark respectively) not have cracked better in-jokes than offers of the kind that can't be refused?
Ironically, in fact, it's the absent Brian De Palma and Al Pacino who provide the inspiration for the picture's biggest laugh, when the leader of a ragtag band of shrimps orders his troops to attack the great white enemy with the immortal, ""Say hello to my little friends!""
There are highlights - - an underwater seahorse race, Mussell Crowe, the arrival of Jolie's fiery dragon fish - - and it's as smooth and professionally packaged as you'd expect. But for the most part the standout surprise is an underlying lack of charm. Place it alongside the smart, snappy second outing for Shrek and co and it flounders. So plot isn't exactly Shrek 2's strongest point, but at least it had the sense to envelop its characters' journey in legion, witty detail. So while Donkey can be a plain ass as much as a comedy one, he's a damn sight more entertaining than Shark Tale's sidekick, a mentalist crab who's about as funny as the sexually transmitted disease his species shares a name with.
Most damaging of all, though, is Smith's Oscar, our supposed aquatic hero. Coming across in looks and attitude as the bastard spawn of Jar Jar Binks and Woody Woodpecker, he's a goofy, gaudy annoyance. Come the dreadfully sentimental climax, as Scorsese is sacrilegiously indoctrinated into his hideous netherworld of bling and bullshit, chances are you'll want to gut Oscar yourself.