Monday, September 3, 2012

Review: Zookeeper

I can only ask myself why I did it?  Why did I put Zookeeper on my queue?  Why did I stand idly by as it crept its way up the list?  Why did I open that red envelope and put the DVD into my PS3?  To these questions and so many more I can only offer up some best guesses.  Maybe it was because l had recently watched We Bought a Zoo and enjoyed it so much that I felt compelled to follow it up with a movie called the Zookeeper (completely disregarding that the two films are polar opposites).  Or maybe it was because I was swayed by the incredibly silly but highly entertaining trailers for Here Comes the Boom also starring Kevin James.  Or maybe I am just a glutton for punishment.  Whatever the reason, Adam Sandler and his Happy Madison Productions (Jack & Jill, Grown Ups, Bucky Larson) have gotten me again.

To wrap your head around the movie that is Zookeeper, you have to try to envision what would happen if the script for Eddie Murphy’s Doctor Doolittle and the script for Ben Stiller’s Night at the Museum mated.  The end result could only be exactly what you find in this film, which sees Kevin James playing sad sack Griffin Keyes, a zookeeper with the ability to speak to the animals and who in turn solicits their advice in order to make sense of his middling life and win back the love of Leslie Bibb’s Stephanie.

After reading the preceding paragraph, if you need me to explain why this movie does not work then you should probably go back and read the brief synopsis again.  The gimmick of animals speaking with human voices is a shtick that can wear incredibly thin over the full length of a feature film.  This is especially true when those voices are provided by the likes of Adam Sandler, Nick Nolte, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Jim Breuer, and Judd Apatow – a veritable who’s who of people playing deep into the back nine of their careers.  Truth be told, I am the least likely person to be amused by the novelty of talking animals, but I have to believe that even the most ardent subscriber to Zoo Books would at some point while watching this film just want to hit the mute button.

As for the live cast, they are about as engaged as one would expect in a film with this plot and of this caliber – which is to say, not so much.  Leslie Bibb is accomplished at being blonde and playing attractive women who are grating on the nerves so I guess that my finding her annoying in this movie was actually her doing a good job.  Joining her in the supporting cast is Ken Jeong (The Hangover) who as far as I can tell appears in this movie for only two reasons - to put on a long wig and to cash a paycheck.  It is an usually subdued performance turned in by Jeong, one in which he kept his pants on, so by that standard, I guess it would have to be deemed a success.

As for the plus side of this film, Kevin James and Rosario Dawson somehow manage to rise above the muck and do just enough to keep me from wanting to snap the DVD in half.  James holds his over-the-top antics in check just long enough to sell himself as the likable goof that you want to root for while Dawson eases into each scene fashioning that same low maintenance charm that made her performances in Men in Black II and Clerks II the only redeeming quality in both films.  Still, it’s not enough to make this movie anything better than an incredibly poor piece of cinematic fluff.

I don’t loathe this movie in the way I loathe Project X or Jack & Jill.  Those films are an assault on cinematic sensibilities.  Zookeeper is well-meaning and has a likable protagonist but it’s just not that entertaining and the last time I checked, they call this the entertainment industry for a reason.  So while I don’t recommend this movie in any way, I am not going to rally the villagers to storm the Happy Madison offices with the pitchforks in hand the way they always do in Frankenstein movies.  Instead I’ll just caution you to check your Netflix queue to make sure this title has not made its way onto your list.  And for your hardcore Kevin James fans (if there are any), be on the lookout for Here Comes the Boom.  

Standout Performance: Joe Rogan gets the nod as Leslie Bibb’s ex-boyfriend Gale.  Sure his character is one big cliché and every word out of his mouth is nonsense but Rogan is hilarious and everything he does brings me back to his days on The Man Show, News Radio, and Fear Factor.


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