One part Herge, two parts Cousteau, and all parts Wes Anderson, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, alas for Bill Murray’s thwarted post-Lost in Translation Oscar hopes, doesn’t really work. In fact, at times it seems like someone’s parody of a Wes Anderson movie. But, if you dig Anderson’s penchant for artfully constructed shots crufted over with kitsch so precious it’d make Belle & Sebastien blush — and, frankly, I find it mildly endearing — then you’ll probably have a decent time aboard the Belafonte. The movie’s a complete non-starter, but it is a rather pretty and innocuous non-starter, a bland pleasure cruise of a film.
At least the cast appears to be having fun…except for Murray, who’s doing yet another amusing variation of the resigned, laconic, vaguely crestfallen wiseass that’s his signature. I never thought I’d see Willem DaFoe out-ham his turn as the Green Goblin, but by golly I think he’s done it. Cate Blanchett is luminous again, although she (and these seamen) are a world away from The Aviator. Owen Wilson doesn’t add much to the equation (and he’s a bit overexposed in my book these days anyway), but Michael Gambon, Bud Cort, and Noah Taylor are all enjoyable in brief supporting turns.
That being said, these actors are all dressed up in authentic Team Zissou gear with no place to go. The story — ostensibly an Ahab-like quest for a carnivorous jaguar shark — never amounts to much, and we are instead treated to a series of episodic vignettes of life at sea (albeit on a boat with a spa, interns, a recording studio, and a Brazilian Davie Bowie fan). Many of these individual scenes are diverting, and I remember smiling through a lot of ’em, but, to be honest, they don’t really add up to a movie. By the time The Life Aquatic starts trying to gain some dramatic headway at the end, it feels forced and unearned. Ultimately too clever by half and probably the least engaging of Wes Anderson’s films so far, Aquatic is cute but not very resonant. All in all, it makes for a blithe but instantly forgettable two-hour tour.