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.