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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 28.8%
Just Average: 10.4%
Pretty Crappy: 15.2%
Sucks: 8%

9 reviews, 71 user ratings

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Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, The
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by Robert Flaxman

"A giant misstep."
2 stars

Wes Anderson really doesnít make films that take place in any kind of normal reality. One look at the early-1970s throwback style of The Royal Tenenbaums confirms that, and the general quirkiness with which the characters operate in all his films shores it up. What is most impressive about Andersonís filmmaking is the way his last two films Ė Tenenbaums and 1998ís Rushmore Ė manage to have emotional resonance despite the way their characters act. His most recent, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, however, stumbles out of the gate and never finds its footing.

Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) is evidently a world-famous oceanographer in the Jacques Cousteau mold, but his recent expedition saw his best friend get eaten by a shark, and the resulting film footage was not well-received. The curious thing about Steve is this: he has no screen presence and he knows nothing about oceanography. Presumably itís Andersonís intention to depict the character this way, but thereís never any clear idea of why thatís supposed to make sense.

To further complicate matters, Steve decides to go on a mission to kill the shark that ate his friend, but must do so while dealing with equipment problems and several new people on board. One is Ned (Owen Wilson), who might be Steveís son; another is Jane (Cate Blanchett), a longtime fan who is evidently the last journalist on the planet willing to do a story on Steve.

Sadly, neither character is good for very much, nor is anyone else. In writing the role specifically for Murray, Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach apparently decided to make Steve the only character in the film worth taking note of, but they undercut that by making him a huge jerk for most of the film at the same time. Steve is self-absorbed, cruel to others, an outright criminal (he plunders a rivalís laboratory in a scene that is both one of the few played totally for laughs and one of the few that should have had little to do with comedy), and frankly pretty boring. There is a period at the end of the film where Steve seems to figure out most of this, but he never really apologizes for it (unlike previous Anderson protagonists), nor does the film give any sense that he has earned the redemption he gets, either with us or with his fellow characters.

Andersonís specialty has been producing unlikable protagonists and making the viewer care about them regardless, but The Life Aquatic falls flat on this count. Since we have so little invested in the crop of dull and/or underdeveloped supporting characters, Steve fails to earn our forgiveness as he is handed theirs. While the filmís last third, the typically redemptive and emotional Anderson conclusion, has moderate success as a standalone piece, the first two-thirds are so dry, uninspired, and generally unlikable that the train has long since run off the tracks by the time Anderson flips the switch.

Besides, Andersonís last two protagonists Ė Max Fisher and Royal Tenenbaum Ė mean well. What they have are fundamental problems in relating to people. Steve has these problems as well, to be sure, but there is little sense that those are his only problems Ė really, heís just a selfish creep. This makes his redemption not enjoyable, but more just a relief from his prior behavior. That might be okay if Anderson endorsed it as such, but he seems to have his usual intentions in mind. They just donít work with this character, nor with the film as a whole, which is far more mean-spirited than any Anderson work to date. The Life Aquatic has the style of an Anderson film but none of the sweetness; itís expectedly long on quirk but exasperatingly short on charm, and even the quirks just arenít that interesting unless theyíve got something to back them up.

Itís possible to make a film that has unpleasant characters and get away with it if youíre willing to grant them as unpleasant and just deal with that fact, but Anderson doesnít seem like heís okay with making a film that mean-spirited; instead, heís done it anyway, and then tacked on a final 30 minutes or so that goes against everything that came before it without warning the audience. Anderson doesnít just put sugar on a lemon Ė he swaps the lemon for a candy cane and hopes no one will notice. The filmís final act is indeed rather endearingly sweet, but when considered as the end of a film this sour it just doesnít mesh, nor can it really hope to do so. It would have been a great conclusion to a film that earned the right to finish that way; The Life Aquatic never does.

With an unfortunate dearth of humor, The Life Aquatic feels like Andersonís attempt to break out of his mold, only he canít bring himself to move completely away. This indecision dooms the film to be stuck in a limbo where it wants to have its cake and eat it too, but doesnít care how much sense the eating makes just so long as it happens. Anderson plunges in headfirst and hopes no one will point out that heís got frosting all over his face.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11325&reviewer=385
originally posted: 01/07/05 02:42:24
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User Comments

7/24/14 Evil Robot Like Big Lebowski, trusts you to see humor without "laugh now" cues. Better film for it. 5 stars
3/04/14 Mallatrinho Esteban was EATEN. 5 stars
6/06/13 Robert Great film, misunderstood by many. Its absurd and has a lot of heart. 5 stars
3/03/13 Langano Love Wes, but this one is a swing & a miss. 2 stars
9/29/12 roscoe Bad and absolutely not funny, entertaining, or adventurous 2 stars
5/21/09 Alex greate movie plot the filming the effect the colors incredible the MUUUUUSIC 5 stars
1/04/09 YMC You'll get the jokes the 2nd time around esp after you've watched some scuba diving movies. 5 stars
12/19/08 brian DJ says "You need intelligence to appreciate it." I belong to MENSA and hated it. 1 stars
11/20/08 Mike You won't like it if you're close-minded or ignorant. Otherwise have fun. 5 stars
11/18/08 Matt C. I don't like movies with so few likeable characters. Quirky=good. Nonsympathetic=bad 3 stars
11/02/08 Shaun Wallner Hilarious Movie! 5 stars
9/30/08 Colin this movie is amazing 5 stars
8/26/08 DJ Best movie of 2004 by a mile. You need intelligence to appreciate it however. 5 stars
5/30/08 telkontar Hated the lack of humor, but was thrilled that I kept watching about 80% through. Strange. 4 stars
5/28/08 Ian I saw it a while ago and fell asleep, but I gave it another go and totally loved it 4 stars
5/24/08 ej Truly one of my top ten movies ever--a bit quirky for most tastes it seems 5 stars
5/19/08 Leanne i've decided that this is my favorite film that i've seen in my entire life. incredible. 5 stars
5/06/08 Ash one of the funniest/best movies ever 5 stars
4/19/08 Andrea its a great wes andreson film but you have to like strange movies 5 stars
3/10/08 brew HORRIBLE!! 1 stars
1/26/07 Tamara D. Leonard :::SNORE::: 1 stars
1/10/07 Jake This movie was really strangely amusing... 5 stars
11/03/06 MP Bartley Does Anderson ever really care about his characters or just their quirks? 3 stars
10/06/06 Dave Wyatt Possibly the Greatest Film ever made. Good in the same way as Jim Jarmusch 5 stars
9/27/06 steve their will never be another one like this one, truly great 5 stars
6/04/06 megan not good at all 1 stars
2/20/06 Jim Odd, but worth sticking with. 4 stars
1/17/06 Naka About 1/4 as good as it should have been. :( 3 stars
11/27/05 Will We rented this movie based on a "friend's" recommendation and now we know who not to listen 2 stars
7/11/05 Tom Benton Beautiful, funny, highly artistic, but ultimately confused. 4 stars
7/07/05 Charlie Very funny, except the ending sucked. I thought this was supposed to be a comedy! 4 stars
6/29/05 jim young This movie suckes the big one. glad I did not pay to see it. but my time is still gone. 1 stars
6/29/05 mwildema How horrible can something be? 1 stars
6/15/05 R from the makers of Obligatory Drug Use comes: Quirky Direction - you can't ALWAYS be funny. 1 stars
6/13/05 E-FUNK Genious. Anderson's films get better upon every release. I can watch this over and over. 5 stars
5/30/05 Mckrob fantastic! I want to see it again... 5 stars
5/27/05 Dan What the fuck did I just watch? 2 stars
5/18/05 Cindy Sheeks EXTREMELY quirky. You gotta like that kind of film to enjoy this one. 3 stars
5/16/05 ELI Liked it a lot better the 2nd time. Love the 3 legged doggie! 4 stars
5/12/05 mitch a tad overlong and a bit underdeveloped, expect to see sights unseen in an Anderson movie. 4 stars
4/18/05 Renita Long bill murray rocks 4 stars
4/05/05 Daniel So many little things to like. I loved it every time. 5 stars
4/02/05 Ben Richardson The best film I've seen in a long time. I would highly recomend this movie to everyone 5 stars
3/29/05 shreif elassaly 5 stars
3/24/05 malcontent rushmore is still Anderson's high watermark, but this one is quirky galore 4 stars
2/28/05 Graham I hate to be smug and say people are too dumb to see the pulsing emotion... and yet... 5 stars
2/13/05 Nathan Wilhite Probably will grow on me just like Wes Anderson's others 4 stars
1/11/05 clarance the cobra see it just for dafoe...fucking great! 4 stars
1/11/05 Abbath Engrossing setting, very quirky but always entertaining. 5 stars
1/10/05 jeff garbage. unique in a baaad way. 1 stars
1/09/05 bernard Worst movie ever. Stupid moronic meaningless 1 stars
1/09/05 pin It won't make the studio happy - Too sublime for mainstream 5 stars
1/08/05 burton miller marvelous, bizarre, unique 5 stars
1/07/05 Lucas Stenz best American film of 2004 5 stars
1/07/05 Daniel I hate Owen Wilson and still love the movie 5 stars
1/04/05 Dunce Some good moments but the story dragged. Dafoe's character and performance were brilliant. 3 stars
1/03/05 KingNeutron Once again Murray makes it look effortless; only problem was, all fish looked FAKE. 4 stars
12/30/04 Titus Holy disjointed and pointless movie Batman! Anybody know the Phantom Editor? 2 stars
12/29/04 Vince I think i like it as much as Rushmore. 5 stars
12/29/04 Landshark rich in depth and detail, teeming with curiosities 5 stars
12/28/04 harold unbelievably clever, hilarious 5 stars
12/28/04 burton miller bizarre, dramatic, unpredictable, excellent 5 stars
12/27/04 carleton so fine, clever, hilarious, great acting, touching, colorful 5 stars
12/26/04 nick2k definately not co-written by owen, but still great from beginning to end. & theres action! 5 stars
12/25/04 ajay my least favorite wes anderson movie. hopefully the next one's better. 3 stars
12/23/04 jcjs gees, could've been great...lacking something 3 stars
12/16/04 FrayLo glad i saw this for free...it was quite forgettable. 2 stars
12/15/04 raivan354 SUCKS ALL ASS, not funny, BORING as drying paint 1 stars
12/07/04 Ray Pretty cool 5 stars
12/06/04 adam it was great, great wes anderson flick with some good action fans will not be dissapointed 5 stars
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  10-Dec-2004 (R)
  DVD: 10-May-2005



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