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The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou /

Rated: R

Starring: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston, Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe

Directed by: Wes Anderson

Produced by: Scott Rudin, Wes Anderson, Barry Mendel, Rudd Simmons
Written by: Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach
Distributor: Touchstone Pictures

 

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     We all know, by now, that Wes Anderson, the mastermind behind the dark comedies Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and now The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, is one hell of a guy. His sense of quirky deadpan has made for some extremely entertaining movies, which are all amusing in their own eccentricities. However, as much as I enjoy Andersonís thoughts when committed to film, Iím not sure I could stand myself, if I had to live inside of his head. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou serves as concrete proof of this. The creation of dark comedy can be very rough; in order for it to work, it must carefully define a line between pathetic and amusing behavior. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, unlike Andersonís previous movies, feels as though it was messily and unsurely assembled. As I watched it, I got the feeling that its usually ingenious director/co-writer decided to fling anything and everything that came across his mind during his creative process onto the screen. In essence, the movie is a trip inside Andersonís head, for better or for worse.

     Bill Murray plays Steve Zissou, a Jacques-Cousteau-like oceanographer who produces and directs documentaries which follow he and his crewís adventures at sea, aboard their bizarre ship, the Belafonte. Over the years, these have become far less interesting than the standard episode of ďThe Crocodile HunterĒ, but strangely continue to attract numerous viewers, most of whom end up loathing them. However, Captain Zissouís voyages at sea heat up when his best friend is eaten by a Jaguar Shark. In the video chronicling the event, Steve is frantic, but to what seems to be an artificial extent. Many accuse him of staging the incident; he thinks such thoughts are disrespectful to the memory of his deceased buddy. In order to prove his critics wrong and avenge the death of his friend, Steve sets out at sea with his crew, for the sole purpose of finding the shark and killing it. Joining the regular cast of characters for the ride are newcomer Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), who may be Steveís son, and a fiery and pregnant reporter named Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett).

     All of the performances in the film are top-notch and some of them even strike notes of comedic genius. Blanchett, in particular, is very funny, although it would be hard to deny that the movie belongs to anyone but the over-the-top and playfully silly Murray. Also, for what itís worth, Willem Dafoeís supporting work in his very small role is genuinely amusing and definitely worth mentioning.

     Ultimately, Anderson weaves together a thoroughly likable movie, although it is never really hysterical. I chuckled several times at the subtle nuances in each of the performances and some of the clever word-play in the script, but never once burst out in laughter, during the filmís duration. The reason for this, I think, is the unnecessary amount of excess in the film. At nearly two hours, much of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissouís dull material couldíve been helpfully filtered out. It would be easy for me to blame the movieís editors, David Moritz and Daniel R. Padgett, for not encouraging Anderson to cut certain scenes, but I donít think that theyíre the ones at fault. When watching the film, I felt as though the director/co-writer was unsure of the exact purpose he wanted it to serve, other than simply entertaining audiences. As a result, viewers will be able to adore its amusing material, as well as be bombarded by many of Andersonís uncertain, unfinished thoughts. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou makes for a fun time at the movies, but that does not mean that it isnít plagued with setbacks, as well.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (12.27.2004)


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