Review: “Shooting Fish” (Film)

For the next review in my “1990s Films” series, I thought that I’d take a slight break from Hollywood films and take a look at a comedy film from 1997 called “Shooting Fish”.

I wanted to include this film in the series because I saw it on rental VHS when I was about ten. Although I remembered very little about it, it has the distinction of being the first “12 certificate” film that I ever saw and, to my ten-year-old self, this fact alone was the height of coolness! So, when I saw that second-hand DVDs of it were going fairly cheap online, I just had to get a copy for old times’ sake.

So, let’s take a look at “Shooting Fish”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild SPOILERS.

“Shooting Fish” follows two con artists called Dylan and Jez (played by Dan Futterman and Stuart Townsend). Their goal is to raise £2 million by scamming and cheating as many rich businesspeople and aristocrats in London as they can, in order to fulfil their lifelong dreams of living in a stately home.

£2 million? How difficult could it be?

Their latest swindle involves selling fake voice-recognition computer systems and, to make the scam work, they need a fast typist. So, after placing an ad in the paper, they end up hiring a medical student called Georgie (played by Kate Beckinsale).

However, in the middle of a “demonstration” of the system, she becomes suspicious. So, Jez and Dylan tell her that they are raising money for orphans (which is technically true, since Jez and Dylan were orphans when they were younger). Glad to help out with a good cause, Georgie decides to join the gang….

Yay! Crime!

One of the first things that I will say about “Shooting Fish” is that it’s slightly more of a subtle and understated comedy than I’d expected.

Although there are quite a few amusing moments and it’s a rather “feel good” kind of film, it often isn’t really the kind of “laugh out loud” comedy film that I’d originally expected.

Most of the comedy is dialogue-based/ character-based, but there’s also some visual humour too. Like this amusing number plate which reads “A T05 DF”.

In fact, the thing that it reminded me most of was an excellent TV series called “Hustle” that appeared a few years after this film came out.

However, although “Shooting Fish” has some of the slick cheekiness of “Hustle”, the narrative sometimes feels a little bit less focused. Whilst “Shooting Fish” certainly contains it’s fair share of amusing capers and audacious schemes, it is also slightly more of a character-based drama too. Whilst this adds some emotional depth and drama to the film, it also takes some of the focus off of the main characters’ many amusing cons, swindles and tricks.

The dialogue is fairly good, but the film’s pacing doesn’t always feel quite right.

Another slight problem with “Shooting Fish” is the lack of attention to detail.

Whilst the elaborate heists in a TV show like “Hustle” are somewhat silly, the audience is distracted from this by the many small details and clever plot twists that the show’s writers have added. On the other hand, there are some scenes in “Shooting Fish” where you’re left thinking “how the hell did they get away with that? Someone would have noticed!“. This film is very much a ‘style over substance’ film sometimes.

Case in point, this scene involving a jockey and a “hidden” helium baloon springs to mind. Somehow, not even the other jockeys notice it…

For the most part, the story of the film is reasonably good. However, there are a couple of parts of the story that seem a little bit contrived (eg: a plot element about recalled £50 notes). Still, given that this is a slightly stylised feel-good comedy caper movie, then these parts of the film can be excused for this.

Likewise, the tone of the film is somewhat interesting too. Whilst some parts of the film are fairly stylish and slick, many other parts of the film are somewhat slow-paced and understated. Whilst this gives the film a bit more complexity, it does detract very slightly from the comedic elements of the film. Even so, as I mentioned, this is more of a frequently amusing light-hearted feel-good film than a “laugh out loud” comedy.

There’s also the inevitable romantic sub-plot too.

The characters in this film are reasonably good, with the friendship between Jez and Dylan being a central part of the film. Plus, since Dylan is a more extroverted character and Jez is a slightly more geeky and introverted character, the contrast between their personalities helps to add some interest to the film.

Likewise, their uncertainty about how Georgie will react if she learns the truth about their plans to raise £2 million for orphans is also an important part of the film too. But, whilst Georgie has an interesting backstory, she sometimes comes across as a somewhat old-fashioned and “posh” character in a few scenes.

Although the “posh” element of her character is explained (somewhat unexpectedly) at one point in the film.

This film also contains a couple of interesting cameos from well-known actors too. To modern audiences, the most noticeable of these is that a certain then-unknown actor called Peter Capaldi happens to have a brief role in the film.

[Insert amusing “Doctor Who” reference here.]

In terms of lighting, style and set design, this film is absolutely excellent!

Not only are the flashback and daydream scenes in this film filmed using some really cool purple and green filters, but a similar effect is also used in the background of another scene in the film too. Not only that, many of the location designs in the film look suitably distinctive and detailed too. Best of all, there’s also a fair amount of cool-looking high contrast lighting too 🙂

Seriously, I really love this effect! More films need to use it!

And the lighting in some scenes is amazing! I’ve said it many times before, but people certainly knew how to use lighting properly during the 1990s!

Musically, the film is fairly good too. Although I (surprisingly) didn’t recognise any of the songs in “Shooting Fish”, they all seem to go fairly well with the events of the film.

All in all, this is an amusing feel-good film. Yes, the narrative could have probably been a bit more focused. Yes, this film can occasionally have more style than substance. But, it isn’t a bad film. If you’re looking for a light-hearted drama film or something that is vaguely, sort of possibly similar to “Hustle”, then this film might be worth watching.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get three and a half.