Sunday, August 08, 2004

Shooting Fish

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 7 August 2004 in Jay's Living Room (Hey, I've got a movie with Kate Beckinsale in it that I haven't watched yet on the shelf)

I wonder if people making movies like Shooting Fish recognize at the time that they're making something completely inconsequential, whose best chance of success is to come out in close proximity to some other movie starring a member of its cast, hoping that that other movie will make said cast member a star, creating in the audience an immediate demand to see them in something else immediately. Do they actually look at release schedules and say "ooh, Kate Beckinsale will be in Last Days of Disco in late May, so let's give this a US release in mid-June"?

Shooting Fish isn't a bad movie. It had a good chance of riding another film's coattails because it does have a cast capable of becoming stars. It's got some funny scenes, moments of cleverness, and a few good lines. It also has an incredibly contrived plot, and skimps on establishing its characters and their relationships; it also never quite justifies its desire for the audience to cheer on when the characters lie, cheat and steal because it's the right thing to do.

Kate Beckinsale we all know by now; she's playing Georgie, the sort of sweet, smart, and a bit fussy character she played in Cold Comfort Farm and hasn't played enough since. We first meet her as a typist hired by Dylan (Dan Futterman) and Jez (Stuart Townsend) to help with a scam involving a supposedly voice-activated computer. Dan is the front man, skilled at projecting enough charm and self-confidence to get otherwise intelligent people to open their wallets; Jez is the awkward technical guy who provides tech support and builds the devices that Dan sells to the "fish" (Dylan is also American for no apparent reason beyond selling the movie in the US).

Is it unlikely that two scam artists would build a scheme that relies on a temp who won't share in their ill-gotten gains? Of course it is. And that said temp would go along with it, and fall in with them, especially considering that she's apparently got enough on her plate, being a med student about to be married to a very wealthy man for, apparently, the soul purpose of saving her ancestral home? Also somewhat sketchy. Director Stefan Schwartz and his co-writer Richard Holmes never really apply much of a plausibility filter to their script, which bounces between neat-but-overly-quirky (Dylan & Jez's home inside an unused, but still filled with water, natural gas tank) and outright contrived (Georgie's fiancé - seriously, did she get engaged for any other reason but to have a villain later in the movie?). There's a lot that's quickly explained (in a less-than-persuasive manner) that makes in harder to really like and root on the characters; not just the silly engagement - I know I keep harping on this, but it's really, really dumb - but also how Dylan and Jez met, became friends, and opted to become grifters when they clearly have enough talent for more legitimate professions.

That said, most of the cons are pretty entertaining, and Kate is decidedly cute in her tomboyish haircut and freckles, which makes things go smoothly. The characters thankfully also remain true to their imperfect natures; it would have been easy to make Dylan grow a conscience or become the piece's villain. There are some clever lines, such as Georgie saying that she wouldn't want to deprive an American of what tradition he has.

You can probably find the DVD in the $5.99 bins now, which is about right. It's five years old, from back when Fox was putting out pretty disappointing discs, with no special features other than the trailer, a widescreen (2.35:1) image that unfortunately isn't 16x9 encoded, and some audio drop-outs near the beginning of the movie. It's watchable, which is a good thing, because there can't be much market for a special edition. There are apparently a few scenes cut from the original UK release, which is somewhat annoying, although most of the cuts listed on the IMDB look like the sort of thing that would go anyway for "tightening".

Shooting Fish passes the time in a relatively pleasant manner. It's pleasantly British, with whimsy where other movies might try for "edge". And it's got Kate Beckinsale in her cute, before-everyone-else-caught-on form. You can easily do worse for an hour and a half's entertainment.

No comments: