Coming 4 years after the director Andrew Stanton's brilliant "Finding Nemo" and 3 years after the incredibly terrible "Shark Tale" is "The Reef" (originally called "Shark Bait", which was Nemo's nickname in that film), a fishy CGI-animated family film. The film revolves around Pi (voiced by Freddie Prinze, Jr.), who is orphaned early in the film when a net grabs his parents (after being upset for about 5 seconds, Pi is then seen playing in the Ocean with his friends.) Pi is adopted by a group of friendly dolphins, who take him to live with his Aunt Pearl (Fran Drescher, more annoying than she's ever been.)
However, on the way to meet Pearl, he falls for a fish model (in the film's funniest bit - to allow one to judge the best joke - we're told that she's been on the cover of National Geographic - twice.) Shortly after their meet not-very-cute, Pi finds that Cordelia is being harassed by a local shark named Troy (Donal Logue). In an attempt to try and impress Cordelia and protect her from Troy's unwanted advances, Pi heads off to learn self-defense from a irritable turtle named Nerissa (Rob Schneider) who teaches him kung-fu. Yes, Rob Schneider as a kung-fu teacher.
"The Reef" starts off without much promise and progressively finds new (Ocean) bottoms. The humor isn't "charmingly corny" - it's just depressingly lame. We get one clunker after another, like Pearl going, "Hey, is that Ricky Marlin?" Not only is it a lame joke, but it's about 5 years too late. Not long after, there's even a "Harry Codfish, Jr." joke. The film also turns to bathroom humor and ethnic stereotypes for humor, as well.
The vocal performances are genuinely lackluster, even from some of the better names in the cast. Prinze, Jr. is the worst offender, and it's questionable as to why the filmmakers would cast just a bland actor in the lead role. Andy Dick plays the sidekick and Wood is forgettable as the love interest. Schneider, as one might expect, is a ridiculous choice for the role of Pi's mentor. Donal Logue is the only one who offers a decent effort, as his take on the character sounds like a villain from a teen movie from the 50's.
As for the animation, the less said about it the better. The CGI in the film looks a great deal like an average PC game and, as a low-budget production, one can clearly tell that corners have been cut (a lack of detail, some fast movement that looks almost unfinished - or at least rushed - and a generally murky look.)
"The Reef" made me wish I had the last 77 minutes back. It's not an entertaining, smart kids movie - it takes from other films and the performances are dismal. Throw this one back.
VIDEO: "The Reef" is presented in 1.33:1 full-frame, which - according to the back of the box - is not the film's original aspect ratio. So not only is this a drab film, but we don't even see it as originally intended. The presentation is just decent, with sharpness and detail that's not terrible, but not exceptional, either. Some minor artifacting and grain is seen, as well. Colors remain bright and vibrant, although they occasionally can look a tad smeary.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is a pure family film mix, with minimal surround use (mainly some minor ambience.) Audio quality was fine, with crisp, well-recorded dialogue.
EXTRAS: Director Howard Baker and producer Mark A.Z. Dippe offer an unlistenable commentary. Filled with both long pauses and high praise, I tuned out after the first twenty minutes, where the two couldn't come up with anything of interest aside from the fact that (for whatever reason) Rob Schneider "championed" the movie. We also get a storyboard gallery and trailer.
Final Thoughts: "The Reef" isn't an entertaining, smart family movie - it takes from other films and the performances are dismal. The DVD offers average image quality, reasonably decent audio and a few extras. Don't get lured in by this one - throw it back or reel in your copy of "Nemo" again instead.
The Film D