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"The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" Movie Review

Anderson Misses the Boat


Bill Murray Owen Wilson Life Aquatic

Bill Murray and Owen Wilson in "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou"

© Touchstone Pictures
Do you ever feel like everyone but you is in on the joke? I didn’t feel that way with Wes Anderson’s other films – “Bottle Rocket,” “Rushmore,” or the amazing “Royal Tenenbaums.” Those films were clever but never condescending. Those I understood and basically stood in awe of. But from the title to the bizarre action sequences, “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” left me feeling like an outsider looking in.

Due to the reputation Anderson’s built with his previous films, “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” was high on the list of movies I was anxious to see in 2004. But watching the movie elicited the same knee jerk reaction you get when you’re expecting to taste an ice cold raspberry iced tea and instead it’s warm milk. Nothing against milk, it just wasn’t what you were expecting. That same confusion, that same unexpected taste in your mouth, is what I was left with after viewing “The Life Aquatic.”

Bill Murray is Steve Zissou, a famous, arrogant, egotistical oceanographer who scrapes up just enough funding for one last documentary. Zissou’s obsessed with finding the jaguar shark who ate his best friend. An oceanographer who wants to hunt down and kill a shark? That’s an excellent twist and a great idea for a movie. Unfortunately, the movie’s not so much about that and more about Zissou discovering his long-lost son, Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), wearing kooky red beanies, fighting over the affections of a reporter (Cate Blanchett), and competing with a wealthier oceanographer, Alistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum).

While the second half of “The Life Aquatic” does kick it up a notch, the first part’s so dull, so sluggishly paced, that I didn’t have any patience left for the film after the first 45 minutes. By the time anything worth sticking around for is actually on the screen, my attention was on other things, like counting ceiling tiles. You can only show so much of Bill Murray and Owen Wilson trying to discover their familial bond before you cry out, “Enough already! Kill the damn shark or whatever and get on with your lives.” Their relationship gets annoying fast. The only saving grace in “The Life Aquatic” is Willem Dafoe as Zissou’s adoring German assistant. When Dafoe’s onscreen, “The Life Aquatic” sparks to life. Otherwise, it kind of just floats on the surface all pale and bloated.

Wes Anderson couldn’t have come off as more smug if he’d subtitled the parts that were supposed to be clever with explanations of why we were meant to be amused by the scene. With “The Life Aquatic,” Anderson’s high-fiving over my head and I don’t appreciate it.

Lowered expectations may have helped me find joy in watching “The Life Aquatic.” But it seems disingenuous to expect less in order to find something funny in Anderson’s fourth feature film.


"The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" was directed by Wes Anderson and is rated R for language, some violence, and drug use.

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