The Basics: How sad it is to only see Seymour Cassel for a few moments at the beginning of The Life Aquatic as Esteban, the faithful comrade of underwater adventurer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray). Smiling sheepishly and bowing his bald head to an affectionate peck from Zissou, he's brilliant, and his early exit under murky circumstances is the only comic sacrifice this movie makes. As Zissou heads out into unprotected waters to chase after the phantom shark that may have gobbled up his pal, it takes two sidekicks to pick up the slack: Willem Dafoe as chief crewman Klaus and Owen Wilson as a young Kentucky pilot who may be Zissou's son.
The Catch: Zissou, the nature lover, doesn't make much of a vengeful tracker. He's underfunded and understaffed, and even worse, he has a pregnant reporter (Cate Blanchett) in tow to generate some good publicity, and a "bond company stooge" (Bud Cort) to oversee the money being spent. It's not long before the ship is in mutiny and the voyage in jeopardy. Zissou's estranged wife (Anjelica Huston) and his oceanography nemesis (Jeff Goldblum) have to ride to the rescue.
Why It's Good: Bill Murray has raced alongside a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, driven a tank, talked to a groundhog, ridden an elephant cross-country and intoned Shakespeare's famous "neither a borrower nor a lender be" speech among other crazy things in the movies, so what could he possibly do to top any of that? Donning a powder blue wet suit is a start. Director Wes Anderson gives his star a fully-realized absurd universe in which to play in this film (complete with animated fish created by Henry Selick), and Murray takes his comedy to a new level.
iVillage Mood Meter: Smirk alert! Smirk alert!
Stars: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe
Director: Wes Anderson
Screenwriters: Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach
Producers: Wes Anderson, Barry Mendel, Scott Rudin, Rudd Simmons, Enzo Sisti
Release date: December 10, 2004, in New York and Los Angeles; December 25 nationwide
Distributor: Touchstone Pictures