Shark Tale aims to be an animated, under-the-sea, urban, laugh bath; but swimming in on the tail of Disney’s marine blockbuster, Finding Nemo, this fish flick doesn’t smell all that fresh. And if you thought that last line was a sinker, be warned that there are more inane puns in this film than you can shake a lure at.

Shark Tale takes on mob movies just as Shrek — which was born of the same studio and director — skewered fairy tales. Only this time, the wit is washed up. Set in an underwater metropolis modeled after a human city, the movie stars the voice of Will Smith as Oscar, a small fish in a big pond who tells a whopper of a lie to make a giant splash (sorry, couldn’t resist). Jack Black is Lenny, a member of the shark mafia family that terrorizes the reef, but he swims to a different current (again, sorry). Robert De Niro, Angelina Jolie, Martine Scorsese and Renee Zellweger also lend their voices.

The reef city forms the perfect playground for played-out puns: shell phones, swim/don’t swim street signals, television anchorwoman Katie Current and scallop polls for elections. Hoo boy, they don’t stop there. At one point, Oscar directs his fellow fish to “raise the reef,” instead of “raise the roof.” Ouch.

Even the animation is run-of-the-mill, save for a moment or two of ingenuity. One of those moments is at the “whale wash,” where Oscar and various forms of marine life scrub the grunge off whales. Set to a cover of “Car Wash” by Christina Aguilera and Missy Elliot, this is as fun as the movie gets.

The one truly clever aspect of Shark Tale is less innocent: The filmmakers disguise product placements as jokes. Oscar buys his girlfriend some Kelpy (instead of Krispy) Kremes and billboards in the reef city sell for Fish (instead of Burger) King. Kids will be bombarded with Shark Tale merchandising when they leave the theater — do they have to sit through thinly disguised ads for things like Coke in the movie, too?

No matter how hip Shark Tale can be, that just isn’t cool.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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