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Reef, The (2006)

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 10/16/07 19:49:33

"It's all wet."
1 stars (Sucks)

In a world where “Doogal” and “Happily N’Ever After” can land a safe, if brief, spot in American multiplexes, just how utterly lousy does a CGI cartoon have to be before its distributors up and say “nah, not today, we’ll just slap this direct to video”? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you “The Reef,” a cheapjack “Finding Nemo”/“Shark Tale” knockoff starring Freddie Prinze, Jr., Andy Dick, Rob Schneider, and Fran Drescher. Oh my.

The film, an American/South Korean co-production released overseas under the alternate title “Shark Bait,” is about as miserable as cartoons can possibly get. Consider: the movie’s production schedule ran from 2003 through 2006, and yet the most up-to-date pop culture references involve Ricky Martin. Consider again: said pop culture reference comes in the form of a hideous pun (“Ricky Marlin”) that could make Kip Addotta groan. (Also included are the old muscles/mussels gag and a mention of “Harry Codfish, Jr.”) Two comical villain characters are played as parodies of Edward G. Robinson and Christopher Walken, which makes even less sense than it sounds. And minor characters are presented as a variety of lousy, semi-offensive ethnic stereotypes. (What’s a half-Korean flick doing making fun of Asian accents, anyway?)

The story opens in the murky, polluted waters of Boston Harbor. (Not sure what the New England fishing industry will think of this film and its portrayal of diseased Massachusetts waters causing three-eyed mutant fish while New York’s shoreline is pristine, a crystal blue paradise. The filmmakers must be Yankees fans.) A young fish named Pisces - Pi for short - is forced to leave Boston to find his aunt Pearl after his parents are captured by fishermen (and, as their absence from the rest of the film suggests, promptly eaten). Flash forward a few years, with Pi (now voiced by Prinze) all grown up. He’s finally found flaky fortune teller Pearl (Drescher) and her idiot son Dylan (Dick), who shows him around the reef.

It’s there Pi falls for Cordelia (Evan Rachel Wood), some sort of superstar fish model. Cordelia falls right back, which is a problem for Troy (Donal Logue), some sort of crime boss shark. After Troy attacks Pi, Cordelia promises to become Troy’s girl if Troy in turn promises to leave Pi alone. Meanwhile, Pi’s busy learning fighting secrets from a wise old fish-karate master turtle (Schneider). And so on. Somewhere in there, we also get John Rhys-Davies as a narrating walrus who speaks in obnoxious rhyme. Did I say “oh my” yet? I did? Oh my.

As utterly generic as the story sounds (beyond “Nemo” and “Shark Tale,” the script also rehashes every conceivable cliché in the kid flick book), and as utterly pitiful as the cloying non-jokes turn out (the puns are peppered with random fart sounds, for no real reason beyond comic laziness), and as utterly bland every single voice performance turns out (when Freddie Prinze, Jr., is the most vibrant thing about your cast, it’s time to get a new cast), the main offender is the animation itself. The computer graphics here are crude, weak, and often laughable. Granted, one does not expect the awesome visual complexities of a Pixar effort, but one does expect the basic effort of making everything in the frame look like a part of the same image. Here, rocks and plants and props and characters all feel like separate layers that were pasted on top of each other in some sort of last minute rush - if ever a movie could look like ColorForms, this would be it. And don’t even ask about the water-ness of the picture; a few random bubbles against a flat blue background does not make for grand undersea visuals.

Cheap animation can be forgivable provided there’s some imagination fueling the project, but with “The Reef,” there’s no sense that the filmmakers are attempting a unique visual style. They’re merely half-heartedly copying the “Shark Tale” look, and they’re doing it very, very badly. This is undoubtedly one of the cheapest, ugliest cartoon features ever produced.

Plus, Fran Drescher and Andy Dick are in it. Oh my, my, my.

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