Had "Shark Tale" had even an iota of the wit and charm that seems to have little trouble finding its way into Pixar's creations, the movie might have been more enjoyable. At the least the filmmakers could have snuck in some funny social commentary through the veil of animation.

What we have instead is an urban, glib, lifeless product that is market-tested and ready for consumption. An empty ghetto-fabulous morality tale loaded with pop culture references and plenty of bling-bling but no heart.

Under the ocean, Oscar (voice of Will Smith) is a tongue-scrubber at a "whale-wash" and part-time hustler. He wishes for a better life, hoping to swim his way to the top of the fish social ladder, though his coworker Angie (voice of Renee Zellweger) thinks he should be happy with who he is, and tries to subtly drop hints that she's quite taken with him.

Meanwhile, great white shark and local crime boss Don Lino (voice of Robert De Niro) is planning to turn his family business over to his two sons, Frankie and Lenny. But Lenny (voice of Jack Black) is harboring some serious issues concerning eating other fish, and the godfather is worried his weak son with reflect poorly on him.

Oscar has problems. In debt to his boss Sykes (voice of Martin Scorsese), he soon ends up in hot water. However, fate runs him smack into Frankie and Lenny. During the scuffle, an anchor accidentally kills Frankie and Oscar is mistakenly given credit for the kill. Now a media celebrity for being a "shark slayer," Oscar rides his status all the way to the top, with Sykes managing his interests and the sharks fuming that their top spot in the food chain is quickly losing its power.

Situations soon escalate and Oscar and Lenny reach an agreement: if they fake a battle and Oscar emerges triumphant, he can keep his credibility as a shark slayer and Lenny can start a new life.

"Shark Tale" openly references "The Godfather" and "Jaws" at every opportunity, which in and of itself isn't too bad except that so little is made of the main plot itself that the whole move feels like a patchwork of other, better movies, just with a meaningless hip-hop attitude. The special effects are up to par but there's nothing really special about them. The audience needs a story and characters, not just choreographed dance sequences and goofy product placements.

All this might have been negligible had the movie actually been funny. This, sadly, is not the case. I only recorded one good laugh during the screening I attended, and that involved a shark voiced by Peter Falk whose flatulence had the expected effect on a henchmen. When a fart joke is the best you have to offer, then you've got serious problems.

The story also steals shamelessly from the 1942 Disney cartoon "The Reluctant Dragon," which featured a fixed battle between a loudmouth braggart knight and a pacifist dragon to keep the locals off both their backs. That story was at least short and cute, neither of which can be said about this debacle.

Along with the plot, voice acting is pretty lifeless as well. Smith gets to indulge his ego, playing his own persona on screen once again, this time in fish form. De Niro and Scorsese seem to be having fun spoofing their own tough guy roles, but that's about it from them. The biggest surprise is how much of a laid-back performance Black gives. His trademark manic desperation is nowhere to be seen, playing instead a shockingly normal character. Had he cut loose, the scenes he's in might have been more enjoyable. What's stranger is his hiding of his vegetarian leanings from his dad is handled like an allegory for a gay person coming out to his parents.

When is Hollywood going to realize it doesn't matter how many famous actors you get to do voices for your characters; if the story sucks, then no amount of acting talent is going to save it? There are three Academy Award winners in this cast, just don't use that as a benchmark for excellence.

This all amounts to another animated project from DreamWorks high on energy and low on inspiration. After "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmarron," "Road to El Dorado" and "Sinbad" all tanked, it's clear that the "Shrek" series is the only good thing the studio has going for it right now.

Of course, there's no escaping comparison to that other computer animated fish movie, either, and that's when this film looks most wanting. Where Pixar's "Finding Nemo" swam the full depths of the ocean, "Shark Tale" seems content to just tread water in the wading pool.

4 out of 10 stars. Pretty to look at, but any movie that tries to push this much "coolness" down your throat is just asking to be despised.