×

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

The affectionately confused life that usually pulsates a Wes Anderson film has drifted out to sea in "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou." Even the good-natured spoofing of TV oceanographer Jacques Cousteau in Bill Murray's Steve Zissou is muddled and will disappoint Murray fans, leaving pic with little good cheer at the B.O. or later in vid berths.

With:
Steve Zissou - Bill Murray Ned Plimpton - Owen Wilson Jane Winslett-Richardson - Cate Blanchett Eleanor Zissou - Anjelica Huston Klaus Daimler - Willem Dafoe Alistair Hennessey - Jeff Goldblum Oseary Drakoulias - Michael Gambon Bill Ubell - Bud Cort

The affectionately confused life that usually pulsates a Wes Anderson film has drifted out to sea in “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.” Comedy overflows with Anderson’s signature motifs — from immature fathers and adult-like children to the storyboard-like arrangement of scenes on screen. But in spite of quasi-action storylines and relatively lavish set pieces, project reps a cul-de-sac for the gifted filmmaker. Even the good-natured spoofing of TV oceanographer Jacques Cousteau in Bill Murray’s Steve Zissou is muddled and will disappoint Murray fans, leaving pic with little good cheer at the Yule B.O. or later in vid berths.

Charitable viewers may speculate that the stellar cast’s half-mast energy and deadpan delivery are all part of Anderson’s devious strategy to suggest people underwater, or to relay Steve Zissou’s own extremely fatigued sense of himself as man of pop science fame. But the effect is often soporific.

Murray’s depiction here of the Exhausted Middle-Aged Male is a pale shadow of his over-the-hill actor in “Lost in Translation.” The energy dip is palpable in the opening sequence set at an Italian film fest devoted to aquatic cinema.

In that scene, Zissou’s latest edition to his ongoing series of armchair adventure films titled — what else? — “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” preems to an aud dumbfounded by the docu’s depiction of the bloody death of Steve’s longtime assistant, Esteban du Plantier (Seymour Cassel). Certain that Esteban was swallowed whole by a huge “Jaguar Shark,” Steve declares that his next project will be filming the hunting and killing of the beast.

Anderson loves narrative clutter and piles it on quickly, introducing Steve’s motley international crew, including Brazilian singer and “City of God’s” Seu Jorge, whose only job is to warble a David Bowie song in Portuguese.

Also paraded onto Steve’s exploratory vessel the Belafonte: Steve’s ex-wife and the brains behind Team Zissou, Eleanor (Anjelica Huston); Eleanor’s other ex- and fellow oceanographer, Alistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum); Steve’s trusted mate Klaus Daimler (Willem Dafoe); and Steve’s shady producer Oseary Drakoulias (Michael Gambon).

In addition, Steve encounters air pilot Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), who convinces Steve that he’s his long-lost son.

Pic is no more interested in real oceanography than Steve is, and, true to Anderson’s interest in eccentric families, uses the life aquatic as mere background for a poorly conceived comedy about a father and a son trying to know each other, and the woman who gets in the way.

That would be oceanography reporter Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett), who’s determined to get the real stuff on Steve for her magazine. Jane insinuates herself into Steve’s life, and he alternates between giving her prickly interviews and trying to seduce her — while she and Ned heat it up in her cabin.

During one of his trysts with Jane, Ned abandons his watch on deck and doesn’t see Filipino pirates board the ship and kidnap meek bond company rep Bill (Bud Cort), who speaks Tagalog. Not only does Steve pull off a ridiculously-staged, one-man Dirty Harry attack on the fleeing pirates, but this bit gets extended into a mission to rescue Bill from a deserted resort island.

Pic falls between the put-on and the real — whether it’s the characters’ various relationships, the film-within-the-film (which looks too suspiciously directed with Anderson’s distinctive eye), or the scientific parts. Latter comes closest to a full cartoon, care of the handmade work of animator Henry Selick, whose usually candy-colored imaginary creatures hint at the wonderful, fully post-modern movie this could have been.

Murray, who has worked deliciously with Anderson before in “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums,” seeks but never finds a way to make playing tired not appear tired.

Cast appears to take its cue from Murray, slowing down to the point of stasis. Wilson, Huston, Dafoe and Gambon do not come close to the comic levels of which they are capable. Where Wilson is actually most missed, however, is as Anderson’s usual co-screenwriter — that task is taken over this time by Noah Baumbach.

Blanchett, unlike her uninspired cast mates, deploys a darling upper-crust Brit accent, some verve and a comely manner that could intrigue the most apathetic male. Right in his typecast groove, Goldblum swims through his small role as a man of leisure.

Insiders may chuckle at film biz jokes galore, starting with character names, but this also shows how the comedy as a whole operates in a vacuum.

Production designer Mark Friedberg’s attempts at showing the real and the fake are hit-and-miss, while the generally aimless eccentricity infects the music that includes composer Mark Mothersbaugh’s Casio-type sounds, classical cues and Jorge’s Bowie settings. Anderson’s regular lenser Robert Yeoman delivers his usual pristine widescreen images. For a studio pic, sound is shockingly poor.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

Production: A Buena Vista release of a Touchstone Pictures presentation of an American Empirical Picture. Produced by Wes Anderson, Barry Mendel, Scott Rudin. Executive producer, Rudd Simmons. Co-producer, Enzo Sisti. Directed by Wes Anderson. Screenplay, Anderson, Noah Baumbach.

Crew: Camera (Cinecitta color, Technicolor prints, Panavision widescreen), Robert Yeoman; editor, David Moritz; music, Mark Mothersbaugh; songs, David Bowie; music supervisor, Randall Poster; production designer, Mark Friedberg; supervising art director, Stefano Maria Ortolani; art directors, Eugenio Ulissi, Marco Trentini, Simona Migliotti, Giacomo Calo Carducci; set designer, Roberta Federico; set decorator, Gretchen Rau; costume designer, Milena Canonero; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Pawel Wdowczac; supervising sound editors, David Giammarco, Scott A. Jennings; animation, Henry Selick; visual effects supervisor, Jeremy Dawson; special effects supervisor, Renato Agostini; visual effects, Gray Matter FX; additional digital visual effects, LOOK Effects, Inc.; visual effects supervisor, Gray Marshall; animatronic effects, Edge Innovations; animatronic effects supervisor, Walt Conti; marine coordinator, Ian Creed; stunt coordinator, Franco Maria Salamon; associate producer, Daniel Beers; assistant directors, Sam Hoffman, Inti Carboni (Italy); second unit directors, Roman Coppola, Salamon, Luigi Spoletini; second unit camera, Stefano Falivene; casting, Douglas Aibel. Reviewed at Laemmle Town and Country, Encino, Calif., Nov. 30, 2004. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 118 MIN.

With: Steve Zissou - Bill Murray Ned Plimpton - Owen Wilson Jane Winslett-Richardson - Cate Blanchett Eleanor Zissou - Anjelica Huston Klaus Daimler - Willem Dafoe Alistair Hennessey - Jeff Goldblum Oseary Drakoulias - Michael Gambon Bill Ubell - Bud CortWith: Seu Jorge, Seymour Cassel. (English, Italian, Tagalog dialogue)

More Film

  • Malcolm D Lee Uptown Saturday Night

    'Girls Trip' Director Malcolm D. Lee Boards 'Space Jam 2'

    “Girls Trip” director Malcolm D. Lee is replacing Terence Nance as director of “Space Jam 2,” starring LeBron James, for Warner Bros. and James’ SpringHill Entertainment. The departure of Nance, creator of the HBO show “Random Acts of Flyness,” was due to differing visions between Nance and the producers for “Space Jam 2.” Warner Bros. has set [...]

  • Joker movie

    With 'Ad Astra,' 'Joker' Likely, Venice Set for Strong Showing by U.S., Bolstered by Streamers

    Brad Pitt space odyssey “Ad Astra,” Noah Baumbach’s untitled new project, “Joker” with Joaquin Phoenix, Tom Harper’s “The Aeronauts,” Fernando Meirelles’ “The Pope,” the new “Rambo” installment, and heist thriller “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” starring Mick Jagger as a reclusive art dealer, all look bound for the Venice Film Festival, sources tell Variety. The fest [...]

  • CGV's Massive Imax Screen Order Shows

    CGV's Massive Imax Screen Order Shows Optimism for Chinese Exhibition

    Korean cinema giant CGV has signed a deal with Imax to install a further 40 giant screens in movie theaters in China. The deal suggests that China’s multiplex building boom still has some way to run, and that at least one Korean company is still willing to invest in China, despite China’s currently boycott of [...]

  • BAFTA headquarters at 195 Piccadilly, London

    BAFTA Undertakes Major Renovation of Its London Headquarters

    BAFTA has undertaken a major renovation of its London headquarters that will double the building’s capacity and increase space devoted to the British academy’s programs to promote skills training and new talent. Work has already begun on the $31 million overhaul, which is expected to take two years. In the interim, BAFTA will relocate its [...]

  • Andhadhun

    Booming Digital Lifts Eros Indian Film Distribution Giant

    Eros International, India’s largest and most controversial film distributor, says that its digital revenues now outstrip conventional theatrical and syndication revenues. Its Eros Now streaming platform claims 18.8 million paying subscribers. The New York-listed company reported annual results that were distorted by multiple adjustments to presentation. Reported revenues in the year to end of March [...]

  • The Eight Hundred (The 800)

    Second Huayi Brothers Film Is Canceled as Company's Losses Mount

    Still reeling from the cancellation of the theatrical release of its blockbuster “The Eight Hundred,” production studio Huayi Brothers has been hit with another setback: Its comedy “The Last Wish” has also been quietly pulled from China’s summer lineup. Both films have fallen afoul of China’s increasingly heavy-handed censors. The unwelcome development comes as Huayi [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content