In The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, one sees other actors besides Bill Murray - quite a lot of them, actually - but there are really no other performances to speak of. This is his movie, and everyone else, no matter how large a role they have, is really just a walk-on. Now, to your average filmgoer, this sounds like a fine thing, after all, one doesn't often say, "I would have liked that movie more if there'd been less Bill Murray." (Except Garfield.) Oddly enough, this film-long tribute to Murray, with a script lovingly crafted for his deadpan delivery by Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums) and Noah Baumbach (filmcritic.com favorite Kicking And Screaming), is replete with stabs of comedic genius but never quite takes off.
Murray ambles through his performance as oceanographer Steve Zissou, whose longtime partner was just eaten by a rare species of shark ("which may or may not exist") and is determined to set off on an expedition to find the shark and kill it. When asked what scientific purpose this would satisfy, Zissou gives an almost imperceptible shrug and says, "revenge." Much in the same way that Luke Wilson's Richie in The Royal Tenenbaums had long outlived his brief fame as tennis pro by the time the film started, in Life Aquatic, Zissou's best days are already behind him, and the film is littered with the detritus of his past glory, many of them '70s-style nostalgia items like a special edition tennis shoe or a pinball machine featuring his bearded visage. The funding for Zissou's increasingly poorly-received films is drying up, it looks like his wife is about to leave him, and there's a reporter nosing around asking painful questions. So Zissou's expedition - a half-assed, barely-planned affair - is much less a research trip than a has-been's last hurrah, a perpetually stoned Ahab hunting his white whale (or jaguar shark, in this case).
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