Zookeeper Review

You can’t fault Kevin James for wanting to do films his children can watch, but there’s no excuse for making a film as bad as Zookeeper. James’s charms do have their limit, and while he’s incredibly likable at certain parts, anything positive that could be said for the film is outweighed by the poor voice acting, inappropriately raunchy jokes, and bad comedic timing of Director Frank Coraci (The Wedding SingerThe Waterboy). Is Zookeeper a fun talking animal comedy for the kids or a dark comedy about a man discovering his romantic identity? It’s neither, and to give Zookeeper credit for being even a paltry example of either would be more praise than it deserves. Here’s a comedy that squandered a surprising corral of star-power and gives us little more than a weak love story and horribly executed comedy.

After Griffin (James) proposes to Stephanie (Leslie Bibb) with a sweeping romantic gesture that she swats to the ground, he dedicates himself completely to his job as a zookeeper at the Franklin Zoo. He becomes a true friend to the animals of the zoo and spends his days in bliss with his aviary specialist co-worker Kate (Rosario Dawson).  Whatever progress Griffin has made in getting over Stephanie is dashed on the rocks when she shows up for a party to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of his brother (Nat Faxon). To help Griffin win Stephanie’s love by being the man she wants him to be, the animals of the zoo reveal to him that they can speak and teach him the skills he needs to be an alpha male. Along the way, Griffin has to battle Stephanie’s rival suitor (Joe Rogan) and come to terms with who he really wants to be.

Zookeeper lacks a single clever element, from its comedy to its story; you’ve seen it all before. We all have. The whole “be true to yourself” moral has been committed to the screen by countless directors before Coraci, and almost all of them had a better handle on storytelling and a better script to work off from. Technical errors abound as noticeably sloppy editing makes the film look like it was slapped together from a series of vignettes instead of as a cohesive story working towards a singular endpoint. Some of these little cutaways have funny moments, as I’m sure a more capable writer and director could make an entire film based on “What if I took my pet gorilla to TGIFridays?”, but overall the film misses with most of its jokes even as the remarkably talented cast struggles to squeeze a laugh out of material they clearly know is half-baked.

Sadly, most of the film’s comedy comes from the overly clichéd moments and horrifically poor voice acting from the likes of Adam Sandler, Cher, Sylvester Stallone, and Maya Rudolph. Nick Nolte might be the only decent voice acting job in the film, which is fortunate because he also plays the animal with the most screen time. While the writing for his character is a hackneyed attempt to play to tween comedy sensibilities, Nolte rises above and plays it off with a sort of wearied stoner flair.

Not all of the performances make you want to walk out. Again, Kevin James is an easy guy to like even when he’s playing a character who jumps  back and forth between three different personalities because the writers couldn’t decide which version they thought was funnier: the hopeless romantic, the affable every-man, or the womanizing alpha dog. And while it’s admirable that James will humiliate himself for the pratfall laughs that make up the only kid-friendly content in the film, it’s plain to see that even he knows he’s neck-deep in a stinker. Rosario Dawson does superbly as the “diamond in the rough” that Griffin doesn’t realize he really loves, even if the audience does as soon as they have their first scene together (and at which point the ending is so painfully obvious that the film becomes nigh insufferable in how long and the route it takes to get there).

Parents considering Zookeeper as the surefire winner for their family-friendly weekend entertainment ought to find another option as Zookeeper has content inappropriate for the younger ones and mind-numbing for everyone else. Kevin James might be fun to watch, but Zookeeper is an agonizing experience for anyone who enjoys high-brow or low-brow comedy. Just avoid this one.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

The combo set includes the film on Blu-ray and DVD and offers a few exclusive extras for the Blu-ray format including a demo of the upcoming video game Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, deleted scenes, and three featurettes devoted to the cast, the stunts, and Nick Nolte's work giving a voice to a bear. The extras which also appear on DVD sets include a blooper reel, a featurette on giving mouths to the animals, and two pieces dedicated to working with the animals and Bernie the Gorilla.

"Zookeeper" is on sale October 11, 2011 and is rated PG. Children & Family, Comedy. Directed by Frank Coraci. Written by Nick Bakay & Rock Reuben & Kevin James and Jay Scherick & David Ronn. Starring Adam Sandler, Cher, Joe Rogan, Ken Jeong, Kevin James, Leslie Bibb, Nat Faxon, Nick Nolte, Rosario Dawson, Sylvester Stallone.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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