Review: “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”

Whilst bearing some relation in tone to his previous flick – 2001’s “The Royal Tenenbaums”, Wes Anderson’s new feature feels like its taken two steps forward and three steps back. More accomplished, lavish looking and ambitious in style – “Life Aquatic” tries to balance eccentric quirky comedy with a steady but offbeat emotional drama without much success.

For all the moments of clever wit and mildly amusing comedy, there are no real big laughs as such. Anderson’s comedy has always been understated and quite often when the movie threatens to get dull, along will come a sudden gag out of left field whether it be an action movie satire involving an island rescue attempt, or many of Murray’s little lines and quirks. Yet more than a few simply fall flat or feel surprisingly amateur for someone like Anderson to try and employ.

Far more damaging however is the lack of any dramatic tension whatsoever, a lot of that due to all too eccentric and undeveloped characters going through the motions rather than actually allowing us to warm up to them. It’s not necessarily the actors faults as all are well-proven performers, but rather the lackluster way in which their roles feel surprisingly flat and silly to begin with and never really change throughout the picture.

Especially shocking is that for the first time in a long time, Wilson and Blanchett I found both big disappointments. Both armed with atrociously over the top accents, each has a storyline revolving around Steve that seems to be just off target and have nowhere near enough interest for us to emotionally involve ourselves in.

Huston in the role of the ex-wife also seems to be asleep much of the time. On the plus side though comes a superb job from Murray as usual who feels like he’s the only one really rising above the essentially problematic material. Without him, the film essentially would be a total loss. Small roles from Dafoe, Goldblum and Gambon are fun sidebars that add nothing other than some mild amusement.

The wild fish animations bits from Henry Selick are in an interesting idea and for the most part it works out well with the somewhat silly tone of the material. Some sequences from a helicopter crash to several rather breath-taking pans through what is obviously a giant cross section ship ‘set’ make this a visual treat for the most part.

Still, the haphazard pacing, lack of any real attempt at a story, episodic feel and all too many attempts to be ‘quirky’ for quirky’s sake in the end sink what otherwise could’ve been a very pleasant voyage.