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Zookeeper (PG)


07/14/11
By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com



Kevin James gets love advice from a gorilla, a monkey, lions and other animals in Zookeeper, a live-action movie wherein talking animals give love advice.
 
Just want to make that talking animal part clear — I know this can be a deal-killer for some people.
 
Griffin Keyes (Kevin James) is more or less the same nice-guy schlub James plays in most of his movies and TV shows. He works at the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston — a job he loves — and he is devoted to caring for his animals. But his girlfriend Stephanie (Leslie Bibb) thinks the zoo is losersville and, when he gets down on one knee during an elaborate sunset-on-the-beach proposal, she says no.
 
Five years later, Griffin is still at the zoo — still loving it — and he sees Stephanie again at a party for his brother’s (Nat Faxon) engagement. Despite being 115 pounds of lip-glossed awful, Stephanie still holds allure for Griffin and he wants to try to win her back. Step one, he realizes, may require him to leave the zoo in favor of a suit-wearing job at his brother’s high-end car dealership.
 
The zoo animals hear this news and decide it’s time to do something. They gather after hours and talk it out — they have to help Griffin get Stephanie before he leaves the zoo. The next day, they try to stage a chance for Griffin to “rescue” Stephanie from the fierce lion. But it fails and zookeeper Kate (Rosario Dawson) ends up doing the saving. Frustrated with Griffin’s meekness, Joe the Lion (voice of Sylvester Stallone) roars at Griffin, “What’s wrong with you?” Stunned, Griffin runs screaming and later realizes that not just the lion but all the animals are talking at him. Joe wants him to be more manly. His gentler wife Janet (Cher) isn’t so sure. The bears Jerome (Jon Favreau) and Bruce (Faizon Love) try to teach him to strut. Donald (Adam Sandler) the monkey suggests throwing his poop. But it’s Bernie (Nick Nolte) the gorilla who becomes Griffin’s closest confidant. Not a big talker, Bernie has been confined to a pit since allegedly attacking zookeeper Shane (Donny Wahlberg). But slowly, he comes to trust Griffin and they become buddies. 
 
Griffin also gets a human buddy to help him in his quest — Kate. She agrees to be his date to his brother’s wedding and — following advice Griffin got from Janet — help him look more attractive to Stephanie by showing what a hot date he can get in Kate.
I don’t know what strains believability more in this movie — that animals talk or that Griffin keeps pursuing the bitchy Leslie Bibb character even when it’s clear the kind and smoking hot Rosario Dawson character likes him.
 
Zoo animals talking, giving animal advice about romance — there’s your elevator pitch for this movie. And I suspect that basic concept and the technical details about getting the various animals to talk and gesture while still looking vaguely like real animals were the main concerns with the movie’s production. Plot, characters, dialogue, all that other stuff probably came second — a very distant second. With Kevin James in the mix — good at mildly anxious, nice-guy comedy — I’m sure barely any thought at all was put into the story. The sitcom guy in a comic situation seems like enough to drive a movie all by itself.
 
The problem is that Zookeeper remains just that — a decent concept with a solid lead which, with a bit of effort, could be a satisfactory family comedy. It’s the “with a bit of effort” part where Zookeeper falls down. The animals seem like pale imitations of the kind of shtick the Madagascar movies did (only better). The human stories feel barely sketched out. The jokes feel flat — that “throw poop at her” joke was probably one of the funnier ones in the whole movie. And as boring as they seemed to me, I can’t imagine little kids (and why are you seeing this movie if not because you’re looking to entertain little kids?) being all that interested either. 
 
Ultimately, the human and animal worlds don’t mesh in a way that makes the animals — again, the point of this endeavor — more than just special effect. C-
 
Rated PG for some rude and suggestive humor and language. Directed by Frank Coraci and written by Nick Bakay, Rock Reuben, Kevin James, Jay Scherick and David Ronn, Zookeeper is an hour and 44 minutes long and distributed by Columbia TriStar. 





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