The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
THE PITCH: Wes Anderson, the writer/director behind
such brilliantly touching and intellectual comedies as Rushmore
and The Royal Tenenbaums, returns with another cast of thousands,
this time in a funny send-up of Jacques Cousteau starring Bill Murray,
hot off the success of Lost in Translation!
THE PAYOFF: All the elements of a classic
Anderson comedy are in place: the large, quirky cast of misfits and eccentrics;
the signature camera angles and cuts; the goofy dialogue spoken straight-faced.
But around the one-hour mark, a sneaking suspicion creeps into your head.
These people... they're all, well, unbelievable morons, aren't they? Do
you know anybody who talks and acts like this?
PROBLEM: Since Aquatic has close to an identical cast
and crew to far superior efforts Rushmore and Tenenbaums,
looking for a reason why this one wasn't better is as easy as looking
for who sat it out. In this case it's Owen Wilson, who-while he
does star in Aquatic- for the first time doesn't share
any writing duties. Anderson might be a savant when it comes
to smugly giggling at misfits and eccentrics, but it looks like it was
Wilson who took the time to make them sympathetic. In Aquatic,
we're laughing at these people, not with them. If we're not being
given a chance to care about these idiots, how can we get invested in
what happens next?
THE PITCH: British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen
takes his runaway hit character Ali G to the big screen for the first
time, in a movie sure to gain him the American audience he's long deserved!
PAYOFF: It's not a bad film, but it is dumb, and the laughs
force themselves down your throat with the subtlety of a White Castle
slider. Almost all of the set-ups present themselves clumsily enough that
you're looking at your watch, waiting for the punchline to arrive like
it was a late bus.
For instance: Ali G's standing next to a fence blindfolded with his pants
down! Wait, now an old man's walking slowly towards him, polishing the
steel bulbs of the fence! Wait, now a busload of nuns has parked itself
right in front of Ali G! If you're unable to connect the dots as to what
happens next, congratulations: you're the target audience of this stupid
THE PROBLEM: Sacha Baron Cohen's comedic style
depends on him being the only guy up on screen who's in on the joke. Whether disguised as Borat, Ali G or Bruno, the biggest laughs come from the unsuspecting
flustered straight men he forces his characters onto in real-life situations.
Indahouse is criminally negligent in ignoring Cohen's not-that-difficult-to-understand
formula for success, choosing pre-scripted scenes, paid actors and a paint-by-numbers
comedy plot over hidden cameras and embarrassed onlookers.
Given the runaway success of Cohen's follow-up, Borat, which
did understand the formula, Ali G Indahouse should be a sad testament
to what could have been from the gifted Cohen-a reminder that he
could have invaded America four years ealier if he'd had his shit together.