Saturday, 9 May 2009

Movie Review - The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a deadpan comedy starring Bill Murray (watch all his fans proclaim this the best movie ever just because he’s in it… again…), Angelica Houston, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchet, and a host of other stars including Ian McKellan, William Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, and Michael Gambon. With such a stellar cast and an ironic plot based to an extent on Moby Dick, this should have been a hilarious piece of entertainment. Sadly, despite the fact that it will undoubtedly be a hit with movie critics, the vast majority of the film just fails to be more than dull.

The plot follows thus: marine documentary maker Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) is on the tail (sorry, bad pun, unintentional, possible evil influence at work on me when I typed that) of what he calls a “Jaguar Shark”, a beautiful creature who happens to have eaten his crew-mate and long-time friend on their last voyage. His aim is to find and kill the creature (thought to be one of a kind.) The scientific reason for this voyage is… erm… revenge.

Things are complicated by the arrival of Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson, for once playing a rather sensible character), who may or may not be Steve’s son. However, he becomes intrinsic to getting the funding for the voyage – and both he and his possibly father want to see if they can get some sort of father-son relationship going here. Not all of the crew are happy to have this new shipmate, and when hard-nosed reporter Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchet) comes aboard it predictably increases tension between the two. Along the way they meet undesirables and seriously annoy Steve’s arch-nemesis Alistair Hennesey (Jeff Goldblum), who just happens to be the ex-husband of Steve’s current wife Eleanor (Angelica Houston).

Erm… it sounds like it should be really funny, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, as was the case in Murray’s earlier film Lost In Translation, the makers of this film seem to think that having people sitting around looking bored or miserable for the vast majority of picture makes a great film. There are one or two genuinely funny moments and maybe one that is fairly touching, but most of it is just Murray being morose. Few people do deadpan humour as well as our Bill, but unfortunately in this instance they kept the deadpan but forgot the humour, 90% of it just isn’t funny. (Well, unless you’re one of the morons who were sitting behind us at the cinema, who laughed at everything and must have either been high, stupid, easily pleased, or most probably all three.)

The pace is very slow throughout apart from a few action set-pieces where the pace picks up. These sequences have blaring music to try to make things more exciting, but this seems rather out of place and doesn’t help these scenes to really hold your attention. Interestingly the underwater scenes were all animated, which lends a little extra surrealism to the proceedings. There were very few such scenes though, I expected a lot more but they probably accounted for less than 5 minutes altogether.

Another problem I had with the film is that there is no real chemistry between Murray and Wilson, or between Wilson and Blanchet’s characters. Since the whole film largely hinges on these two relationships, this lack of chemistry really hinders the film from gelling into one cohesive whole. What we’re left with is a bunch of potentially interesting but under-developed characters and decent scenes that have absolutely nothing to hold them together, and as such they have very little value in themselves.

I had been really looking forward to this film but ended up extremely disappointed by it. I wouldn’t say it was awful – it did have a few good moments at least – but it was a missed opportunity. Three stars since it wasn’t actually dreadful but I can’t recommend it.

(For the record my favourite Bill Murray film would have to be Groundhog Day. Though Ghostbusters would be a close second.)

Related Links

Bill Murray also starred in Lost In Translation
Owen Wilson also starred in Starsky and Hutch
Ian McKellan and Cate Blanchet were also in The Lord of the Rings trilogy: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and Return of the King
Ian McKellan also starred in X-Men II

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