CliqueClack Flicks

Zookeeper – Mildly amusing and mostly unobjectionable family comedy

Zookeeper - Theater Review
Release Date: 07/08/2011 - MPAA Rating: PG
Clacker Rating: 2 Clacks

'Zookeeper' is the latest Kevin James slapstick comedy - this one wrapping a by-the-books romantic comedy together with very few clever moments from talking animals.


Another year, another Kevin James vehicle where he plays some sort of blue-collar worker in a wacky comedy. This time, he plays zookeeper Griffin Keyes who’s pining for his ex-girlfriend Stephanie (Leslie Bibb), who scorned his marriage proposal. Naturally, he’s friends with fellow zoo worker Kate (Rosario Dawson), who seems to play some sort of vet — and is obviously who he’s “meant” to be with when the credits roll. It turns out that all animals can actually talk, but their “code” prevents them from speaking in earshot of humans, as it’s only caused problems in the past.

And yet, as Griffin is simultaneously hapless but highly competent in zoo-keeping, the animals decide to help him get back together with his ex, but zany circumstances wind up with Griffin discovering that animals can speak perfect English. So obviously it then becomes time for Griffin to learn from animals how to win the heart of a human, but when he succeeds — will the man he’s changed into be someone he wants to be? Or will he find love in the arms of his obviously foreshadowed love interest from the zoo?

Why, it’s anyone’s guess!

Now, obviously this is an entirely predictable romantic comedy that aims to be family friendly, so the overall plot has nothing unique or original. However, there are a few times where the plot zigs when you expect it to zag — it’s the sort of effort that has to be respected, if not entirely enjoyed. There are actually a few moments of genuine cleverness, and a handful of laugh out loud jokes. There are some pretty severe tonal issues: this movie tries to be a romantic comedy, a buddy comedy, a serious drama, and a zany talking animal kid’s movie.

The movie is directed by Frank Coraci, mainly known for such Adam Sandler vehicles as The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy, and Click. The directing here is nothing special, but nothing overtly offensive to the eye.

As for how it will be for kids, they will enjoy the slapstick, silly voices, and anthropomorphic animal hi-jinks, and should be able to handle the slower stretches of the film before more slapstick ensues. Although there are definitely stretches where kids will be quite bored by the romantic comedy moments. There are no sexual or adult situations, and only one minor bad word I noticed, which wasn’t really so grave. A few veiled references to certain adult acts or body parts may completely go over kids’ heads, making this a fine film for most ages.

Adults should have no serious issue with this film if they don’t think about anything too much — the conceit of the animals talking doesn’t stand up to any serious scrutiny, but it’s not really the sort of movie that deserves such attention.  A mild, fairly mediocre, slightly pleasant thing to watch — it’s fluff with a few bits of true humor. A subplot about a lonely gorilla attempts to add pathos to the film, but ends up as a blatant advertisement for a restaurant chain. The film tries to have that emotional resonance with its silly nonsense, but fails to maintain the dichotomy — only the nonsense prevails.

The cast is interesting, mostly aimed for the adults — featuring the voice talents of Nick Nolte, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Adam Sandler, Judd Apatow, Jon Favreau, Faizon Love, Maya Rudolph, Jim Breuer, and Don Rickles. Stallone isn’t so terribleas the alpha male lion, Judd Apatow has funny lines as a cowardly elephant, and Jon Favreau and Faizon Love are the most amusing animals as the zoo’s bears. However, Adam Sandler utilizes one of his most annoying voices (although kids might still like it), Cher is flat and boring, and Maya Rudolph’s accent is borderline offensive.

As for the humans, reptile keeper Ken Jeong is somewhat amusing, but mostly annoying — and awfully ever-present in movies these days. Donnie Wahlberg is appropriately one-dimensionally menacing as an abusive zookeeper, and Joe Rogan is expectedly over the top as the jerky new boyfriend. Rosario Dawson is playing her part with far too much effort and capability for this movie, and Leslie Bibb is similarly overshadowing the material with superior comic timing to her less talented costars.

And Kevin James is about what you’d expect — he’s always up for painful slapstick and his ability to be funny relies on the strength of the script. In this case, he’s below average — in other words, not that bad, but not really that good either.

Which is an excellent summary for the movie as a whole: Below average, and not as bad as it could’ve been.


Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures

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