Whoever thought to call Fish
in a Barrel "a hilarious dark comedy" ought to spend some quality time with a
dictionary, identifying the exact meaning of "hilarious" and "comedy," because Fish
in a Barrel is anything but funny. Unfortunately, in the case of this
particular film, I can see that the problem is not a case of a misapplied
advertising label, but an unsuccessful approach to the material.
The characters of Fish in a
Barrel are a grab-bag of misfits: one is obsessive, one is hyperactive, one
is devil-may-care and one is just plain stoned. Take this bunch of misfits, get
them working together on a heist, and have that heist go wrong: a recipie for
laughs, right? Well, wrong, actually. A few moments can in retrospect be seen
as fishing for laughs, as when one character throws a tantrum over another
character finishing off his jelly, but it's all very forced. When the stakes go
up, later in the film, there's some attempt to develop humor through the very
absurdity of the situation, but director Kent Dalian errs too much on the dark
side; there's really no gleam of light in the bloodbath that ensues.
By trying and failing to be
funny, Fish in a Barrel pretty much shoots itself in the foot for any
consideration of the film as a serious drama. The film has a flat kind of
anxiety to it, best expressed in the slightly amateurish performances from the
cast, who tend to shout and get worked up a lot in mini-monologues.
To its credit, Fish in a
Barrel manages not to betray its shoestring-budget origins; the action
takes place in only a few, fairly realistic-looking sets; most of the story is
filmed in the grungy apartment shared by the four criminals. One consequence of
the focus on this locale is that the film takes on a fairly theatrical
atmosphere, with most of the story's advancement taking place through the
conversations (and recriminations) of the characters. This focus makes sense,
given that director Kent Dalian (who also plays one of the main characters)
remarks in the liner notes of the DVD that his interest is in making
character-driven films. Nonetheless, Fish in a Barrel never develops the
characters as interesting enough to merit the film's attention to their
personalities rather than the plot. Though it's only 85 minutes long, it feels
much longer, lacking the narrative or emotional drive to push the story along
at a compelling pace.
Fish in a Barrel is
presented in a non-anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. Visually it's fairly
unattractive, with a grayish tinge to the image resulting in a flat, lifeless
picture. There's not too much noise in the image, but it's still rather grainy
and not very detailed, particularly in any non-close-up shot. Skin tones are
slightly unnatural, ranging from overly reddish to pasty, and those parts of
the image that should be colorful, like some of the clothing, are muted and
slightly "off" as well.
Fish in a Barrel's Dolby
2.0 soundtrack is lackluster at best and unacceptable at worst. Dialogue ranges
from being muffled to being overly harsh; the soundtrack doesn't deal well with
high- or low-volume sounds. A slight hiss in the background contributes to
obscuring the dialogue at times.
Several scenes early in the
film also have a severe sound problem, specifically that the sound "blanks out"
every few seconds. When this happens in the middle of dialogue, it obviously
means that we miss part of the sentence, but it's equally noticeable when it
happens at other moments, because the sudden lack of background noise is very
distinctive as well. I did play the disc in two different DVD players to
double-check that it wasn't a compatibility issue; the "skips" happened at the
same points in both players. This flaw is extremely irritating and makes these
scenes virtually unwatchable; fortunately, the remainder of the soundtrack does
not have this particular problem, but it's still very disappointing that we are
stuck with this defect in the soundtrack.
An audio commentary track from
director Kent Dalian is the main special feature on the disc. We also get a
trailer and three minutes of outtakes.
Fish in a Barrel may
purport to be a comedy, but it never evoked so much as a smile from me. Nor
does it work as a drama; in the end, it's just an awkward, not very interesting
story with a lousy transfer on DVD. There are better films out there in the
"dark comedy" genre; skip this one.