Zookeeper Directed by: Frank Coraci Cast: Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Adam Sandler, Maya Rudolph, Judd Apatow, Jon Favreau, Nick Nolte Running Time: 1 hr 44 mins Rating: PG Release Date: July 8, 2011
PLOT: After a friendly zookeeper (James) threatens to leave his job in order to impress his dream lady, a group of zoo animals break their code of silence to help him nab his mate.
WHO'S IT FOR?: The content of this movie is safe for "families," but no one's brain cells will be spared. Even though it takes place at a zoo, no one's going to learn anything. Except that animals are useless self-esteem coaches.
EXPECTATIONS: Considering the success of Paul Blart: Mall Cop, it was curious to see what James' next leading family comedy would turn out to be, especially with such a cast voicing his character's animal friends. Would this be a Hollywood misfire, or do talking animals and a fat guy add together to create comedy gold?
Kevin James as Griffin Keyes: He's simple, he's dumb, he's your comedy superstar, America. Since we loved him so much in the 100-million grossing Paul Blart, we've given him another job, with similar requirements - fall off things, stumble his words, be fat. James is as plain as his name, and his comedic ability can only handle mindless laughs, in both their creation and their delivery. None of his spunky actions are able to catch our funny bones off-guard. He can't swing "everyman" as funny. Score: 3
Rosario Dawson as Kate: The appearance of Rosario Dawson in this movie is a bit jarring, but it's a relief. She's fun, and isn't put through any wacky situation where she dodges animal poop or challenges Griffin to show that he can really talk to animals. Instead she's made into a bland love interest - of course, after years of working with her, Griffin realizes he might have a thing for Kate. Score: 4
Leslie Bibb as Stephanie: Somewhere between the snobbish attitude and the unabashedly manipulative desires of this character, I lost grasp of the concept that Stephanie is meant to be a desirable human being. Instead she's as aggravating as Sandler's sqwaking monkey, but with even more screen time. Bibb succeeds in making us despise her character, but its played too straight. She's plays obnoxious purely, not comically. Score: 2
Rest of Cast: Next to how aggravating Mr. Popper's Penguin's was last month, the misuse of this mega cast might be the summer's most frustrating moment. It's not like Zookeeper hired a couple of comedians to throw in some yuks at the little kids - it's much worse than that. This is a film tarnishing its once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get the diverse cast of Judd Apatow, Nick Nolte, Cher, and even Don Rickles to generate some white noise banter, without most of the voices sounding obvious until you've checked IMDb (the end credits are of little help). Sandler proves that he can do anything he wants in a comedy by voicing a small monkey with his shrill, high-pitched voice that sounds like a bat squeaking. Even UFC heavyweight champion/Youtube video master Bas Rutten makes a rare appearance in the film, and it's a forgettable turn. Score: 3
TALKING: While it utilizes some marquee names who could sell a movie on their lonesome (Cher, Sandler, Stallone) the banter between the animals is noisy and messy, playing into one simple joke that animals can be blabbermouths too. The human dialogue is corny, using the contrivances of any forgettable romantic comedy. Score: 3
SIGHTS: Boston Common is used for its sunny appeal in a laugh-less chase between James and a rival (played by Joe Rogan). Zookeeper possibly admits that zoos are boring with its lack of visual style in its actual zoo; Boston's Franklin Park Zoo is shot with little magic or sense of wonder, and instead looks like a collection of animal pits. The movie much prefers to shoot inside upper-class locations, as it films in swanky locations as much as it does the zoo. Score: 4
SOUNDS: Possibly playing into the taste of adults and hoping to convert kids into liking their parent's music, the Zookeeper soundtrack goes the Paul Blart: Mall Cop route with songs by groups like Kansas, Motley Crue, and Boston. Mixing into this assortment of tunes is another golden oldie (by rap standards), "Low," by Flo Rida, which is given the whole gorilla-and-fat-guy-sing-it-together treatment. Score: 3
BEST SCENE: Griffin's "finding your perfect mate" speech, addressed with a porcupine in hand, was a sweet second or two from the movie. But by the end of the speech the metaphor has become cheesy.
ENDING: The zoo animals participate in a singalong of Boston's "More Than A Feeling" for no reason at all. Hearing Sylvester Stallone's singing voice gave me eerie Rhinestone flashbacks.
QUESTIONS: Why did it take so long for this movie to come out after Paul Blart: Mall Cop? That seems like a pretty lagging in-between time in Hollywood standards. Does Kate not have a cell phone that could be called in dire romantic situations? Where's the resident guitar hidden at T.G.I.Friday's?
REWATCHABILITY: I'm all set for never watching Zookeeper from start to finish ever again. Parents may not be able to afford the same possibility, as Zookeeper is so inane that it might turn out to be an OK ninety minute babysitter.
A sarcastic pat on the back to Zookeeper for avoiding a plethora of fart jokes and getting Kevin James to shave his Blart mustache. Unfortunately, it took five writers to come up with this entire script, which could have been written by the fantasies of a nine-year-old and the romantic understandings of that kid's eleven-year-old sister. Five writers. Five human brains to conjure up a monkey-brained talking animal romp that hopes to cash in on the Hollywood math that Fat Guy + Talking Animals = Gold. In some lights, this could be considered "inoffensive," but that's a wrong concept. This movie is offensive in other ways, with or without the consideration of its bathroom humor (of which there is still some).
For starters, no movie that sells whatever increment of soul it may hold on to to advertise a restaurant should be forgiven with just a shoulder shrug (see: Mac and Me, The Day the Earth Stood Still, etc.) The shameless product placement of T.G.I.Friday's in this movie is disgusting. As if Zookeeper wasn't already stirred carefully to be a popcorn cocktail, it spends an entire scene selling T.G.I.Friday's as the ultimate night destination for grounded working men and zoo animals alike. Bernie the Gorilla eats thirty oranges, Griffin plays guitar, and an army of dumb people believe that Bernie's wearing a costume (even when the moment edges awkwardly on notions of bestiality). The gorilla voiced by Nick Nolte even uses the word "incredible" to describe T.G.I.Friday's. This isn't cute, this isn't charming, and it isn't ironically enjoyable. It's pathetic. A moment of silence for the state of Nick Nolte's career. His mugshot is funnier than anything he does here.
Zookeeper's sense of humor is frustratingly bland, in a story that defies any opportunity to think on its own. The movies jokes are more crushed and lifeless than roadkill, whether delivered by human beings or sassy zoo animals. James falls a lot, a tough lion is emasculated by his mate, and when the animals get their paws on a cell phone, they try to order a pizza. (Note: Pizza is always ordered by creatures foreign to technology. Unless they go to McDonald's.) Here is when something as lame as a smoking monkey is actually welcome - it would at least stir something up in the movie.
In a movie with a message of "Be yourself," Zookeeper is relatively indifferent to that philosophy. Griffin only learns to stick with himself after the coaching of his animal friends ultimately fails - whether they're too stupid to realize it, they too, are trying to change him into someone he is not. Half of the movie is James listening to talking animals and doing whatever they recommend, which makes him into the biggest tool in the animal kingdom, before his ex-girlfriend practically forces him to change.
Unfortunately, Zookeeper is not just a tool expo for the milquetoast James, but for everyone else on-screen, or those hiding behind a vocal booth. No character or actor seems to be able to stand out or stand against the ugly decisions of Zookeeper. They go along with whatever is thrown at them, tossing their potential out the window.
As believable as the talking zoo creatures may be with special effects, there's nothing special or new about this movie. This is a redundant puppet show.
FINAL SCORE: 3/10