Zookeeper

Zookeeper

Kevin James talks to his target demographic.

(2011) Family (Columbia) Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb, Joe Rogan, Ken Jeong, Cher (voice), Nick Nolte (voice), Adam Sandler (voice), Sylvester Stallone (voice), Judd Apatow (voice), Jon Favreau (voice), Maya Rudolph (voice), Faizon Love (voice), Don Rickles (voice). Directed by Frank Coraci

 

There’s a Hollywood platitude that a smart actor never works with kids or animals. Of course if a career is going to have any longevity, it is inevitable that one will someday have to work with either or both. If you’re going to do a movie set in a zoo…well, be prepared to be upstaged.

Griffin Keyes (James) is a zookeeper who really loves his job. He enjoys interacting with the animals in his charge and cares very much about them. He is a kindly, genial sort who is also quite shy and a bit clumsy. He is trying to get over the rejection given him by Stephanie (Bibb), his ex who turned down his elaborate marriage proposal five years earlier. It devastated his self-confidence and led him to an existence with virtually no social life.

He has earned the respect of the zoo’s veterinary zoologist Kate (Dawson) who sympathizes with his plight. Stephanie had dumped him because he was a zookeeper, someone with a limited income and limited possibilities. Of course Stephanie is a shallow materialistic individual that has no business with guy like Griffin anyway but Griffin doesn’t see that.

He has a chance to win her back, even though she’s seeing an ex-boyfriend named Gale (Rogan) who is as mean and as shallow as she is. The animals, thinking that Griffin will leave them unless he finds a girl in town who will keep him there, decide to give Griffin dating advice so that he can win the girl.

Of course, this unnerves Griffin more than a little bit. It turns out however that animals can in fact talk and just choose not to because it freaks out the humans when they do. Griffin particularly bonds with Bernie the Gorilla (Nolte) who is depressed. Griffin cheers him up (by taking him to a TGI Fridays of all places) and the two become best friends. No comment on being the best friend of a primate, please.

Of course Griffin must eventually make  a choice between Stephanie and a life as a successful car salesman and Kate and a life as a humble zookeeper. I’m sure you’ll be able to guess which way the wind blows on this one.

The movie got critically panned during its release last year and it made a few “Worst film of the year” lists which I think is a bit harsh. Certainly there are some misfires here.

Casting James isn’t one of them. He is one of the most likable actors working in Hollywood and it’s hard not to root for him, even if his romantic leads of Bibb and Dawson don’t seem to be the types who would fall for pudgy older men. Of course, as a pudgy older man I have some experience in this.

The problem here is mostly with the zoo animals. They were matched with celebrity stunt voice casting which might have pulled a few bodies into the theater at the time but the CG was a little bit rough and the voices don’t always go with the animals really well.

Worse still, I get the sense that this was a movie that wanted to pull in an adult audience but the studio was aiming for a family audience and we got jokes that fell somewhere in-between. Some of the jokes were probably a bit much for kids, and others a bit dumbed down for their parents. Try to please everybody and you wind up pleasing nobody, and that statement is never truer than it is here.

There is some heart and charm and it shows through at unexpected times. Dawson does a great job as being the girlfriend everyone wants to have – just like in Clerks 2. She reminds me a little bit of Meg Ryan in that regard; she has a big future in romantic comedies in my opinion. Kevin James is also pleasant to watch.

And that really sums up the movie in a nutshell. It’s pleasant but not particularly memorable. You won’t hate it while you’re watching it but you won’t love it either. It’s just kinda…there. Your kids might get a kick out of the talking animals but something tells me that it won’t be enough for them to put it on their regular viewing list.

WHY RENT THIS: James is plenty likable and Dawson is the girlfriend every guy wants.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The animals don’t quite work out so well and the humor is mostly either too over the heads of kids or too dumbed down for adults.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some rude humor, a little bit of innuendo and some mildly bad words. Still acceptable for nearly all audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: James Hong, who voiced noodle shop owner Mr. Ping, is the son of an actual noodle shop owner.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a gag reel and an in-depth look at the creation of Bernie the Gorilla in physical effects. The Blu-Ray also contains a playable demo for a Sony Playstation 3 Game.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $169.9M on an $80M production budget; the movie basically made back its production budget during its theatrical run.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: House on Haunted Hill (1999)

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