Like a Fish out of Water (original title: Comme un poisson hors de l'eau) takes it name not just from a metaphor about the protagonist, Désiré (Michel Muller), a nice, ordinary fellow with a tropical fish hobby who ends up over his head in an elaborate con game, but also quite literally from the con game's object: a very rare, very expensive fish. The story involves an tricky theft using the hapless Désiré as a pawn; getting Désiré to work for the gang of thieves in the first place also involved an elaborate scam, and the unraveling of that scam midway through the main operation puts an entirely different spin on events for all concerned.
The criminals who have suckered Désiré into their plan are not really developed as people, as it's not the kind of storyline that really pivots on character development, but they're sketched out as memorable figures. Melvin (Dominique Pinon) is a complete nutcase, with his suitcase full of guns that each have a name and, it would seem, a personality; B.B. (Tchéky Karyo) is more serious and ultimately more sympathetic, as it's hinted that he is carrying out this crime more out of compulsion than greed; Myrtille (Monica Bellucci) is both bait for the lonely Désiré and the key element in the theft. The other criminals (for here we have thieves stealing from gangsters) are even more caricatured, as with Le Caïd, the ex-opera singer / fish aficionado / mobster who can't bear the sight of anyone eating fish in his presence, and his right-hand man who is in the habit of popping in a set of metal false teeth and taking a bite out of anyone who displeases his boss.
So overall, the tone is generally that of a comedy; yet at various moments, the tone turns more serious, as when Désiré is given more depth as a character and we start to see him as a person, not as a bumbling nobody. These moments clash slightly with the humor; it's still, I think, meant to be a light-hearted film, but it's caught on earth, so to speak, by intentions of also being dramatic.
The opening of the film is a bit shaky, as the story waits too long before filling in the details of what's going on, leaving me wondering whether I'd missed something or whether I was supposed to be in the dark. Similarly, the first few scenes with Le Caïd are a bit confusing. In an early scene, we see that he is evidently a graduate of the Darth Vader school of management, but it's not clear whether his disposal of a failed associate is just a setup of his personality or whether it's actually relevant to the developing plotline. Once it gets rolling, though, the story is interesting, with the various clever and funny machinations of the crooks to set their plan in motion while avoiding getting caught. Like a Fish out of Water also benefits from a generally snappy pace; at 90 minutes, it's short enough to make it easy to overlook its flaws and enjoy the ride.
Like a Fish out of Water is presented in a non-anamorphic widescreen transfer, which at 1.66:1 appears to be the original aspect ratio. The picture is almost free of noise, but it's also quite blurry. Colors are extremely washed-out; it looks in fact more like a slightly-tinted black-and-white movie than a color film. I managed to get it to look more presentable by cranking up the "color" setting on my TV (a control that I normally never, ever budge from its calibrated setting) just so that there would actually be some color in the picture. Even so, the colors never look right.
The English subtitles, unfortunately, are burned-in, which is a definite blow to viewers who understand French and don't want to be distracted by the subtitles. At least the subtitles themselves are reasonably clear and easy to read.
The soundtrack is in Dolby 2.0 French, and it's of a respectable quality. Dialogue is clear, background music is never obtrusive, and environmental effects are appropriately audible. English subtitles are provided, but as I mentioned above, they are burned-in.
Not a thing, unless you count chapter stops as a feature.
Though I never found myself completely drawn into the events of Like a Fish out of Water, I liked it; it's an enjoyable light crime caper with a slightly different, French flavor, and worth picking up.