Think of this film as a vessel... for the comic-tragedic hilarity of Bill
Murray and a team of colluding miscreants following his lead and his
mock-serioso dead pan style. I say that endearingly because as ragged and
disheviled as it appears to be in places, it muddles through to a fun and
slightly wicked takeoff on Jacques Cousteau, his team and his legend and...
it's just in time for a nice holiday release.
Steve Zissou (Murray) is an internationally famous oceanographer who has
turned his and his team's aquatic exploits into a showbiz career, filming,
documentary style, every detail of their voyages and explorations. The
details they record for posterity are small and large, personal and public,
intimate and momentous. But it all gets edited down, somehow, and the public
adoration has made a star of him. Does any of this sound familiar?
When one of Zissou's closest team members and friend gets eaten by a "Jaguar
Shark" (patterned on the mammoth whale shark but with neon sequined scales)
on one of their expeditions, Zissou's under pressure to return to the area,
hunt the creature down, and turn him into cat food. If Captain Ahab can do
it with Moby Dick, you see, so can he. The loss puts a strain on the team,
but affects Eleanor (Anjelica Huston), the great skipper's wife, enough to
maker her give it all up. She abandons her post as the chief logistics
officer, leaving hubby to steer for himself. Zissou didn't see this coming
and he's devastated.
But, there are compensations. At a reception for his exploits during which
he's networking with financier Drakoulias (Michael Gambon) for further
funding for the next episode of their exploits, Zissou's supposed biological
son Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) shows up to check his erstwhile father out.
Zissou is more than pleased with the sudden appearance of an offspring from
yesteryear, and quickly embraces him as a new member of his family and his
team. The adoption of a new sidekick is much to the chagrin and displeasure
of team member Klaus Daimler (Willem Dafoe) who covets the chief's favor and
senses a dimishment of his importance.
Needing publicity badly in order to keep his franchise alive, Zissou agrees
to an expedition-long interview by pressperson Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate
Blanchett), a delectable if too-honest chronicler of the master's fu... er,
slipups and general character. Don't think he's not trying for a little
seduction in the cabin, as well. She may be youngish for him, but she's very
The takeoff or, should I say, take down of the Cousteau mystique, red knit
caps, an over-accessorized ship (patrolling dolphin, helicopters, diving
subs, observation balloon, film editing equipment, etc.), exotic creatures
(rattail envelope fish, crayon pony fish), heroic gestures and all, (they
lack an espresso maker) goes on its hectically satiric way with zany
misbehavior that provides a laugh, a giggle or a groan at every turn.
Through an emotional range from angst, fear (of bankruptcy), life-threatening
danger (pirate highjacking), Murray takes us on a cruise through his
patented portfolio of comedic chicanery adapted for the high seas and the
briny deep. The man is a match for Keaton in the way he turns melancholy
Jeff Goldblum fits in as Hennessey, a rich, mercenary, bi-sexual (giving him
the benefit of doubt) entrepreneur with an air of self-importance who takes
financial advantage of a needful friend and then get his life saved by the
sucker. Bud Cort springs up with a fitting role as Bill Ubell, the on-site
spy for Drakoulias. As it turns out for him, he makes a good hostage when
taken by a band of Phillippine pirates for ransom.
If you like your comedy zany and whacked out, this under and over sea voyage
helmed in his off-beat, seemingly directionless way by Wes Anderson
is a ticket to laugh and sometimes howl. Under Murray's steerage, it's a
wet-suitable satire that commandeers the funny bone and will be the best
comedy of the year for some passengers. Dive, anyone?
~~ Jules Brenner