30 Jul

Title: Zookeeper
Frank Coraci
Writers: Nick Bakay, Rock Reuben, Kevin James, Jay Scherick and David Ronn, based on a story by Mr. Scherick and Mr. Ronn
Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb, Donnie Whalberg, Ken Jeong, Nick Nolte, Sylvester Stallone, Adam Sandler, Judd Apatow, Cher, Jon Favreau, Maya Rudolph, Don Rickles
MPAA Rating: 
PG, some rude and suggestive humor, and language
102 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
Rotten Tomatoes: 


Today I caught a 3 p.m. showing of Zookeeper because I’m on the fourth week of a six-week holiday and I really have nothing better to do with a Friday afternoon. I wasn’t expecting any sort of cinematic masterpiece, of course, because this is after all an $80 million budgeted PG-rated film with talking animals, but I like Kevin James a whole lot so I thought he would at least make it bearable. But, as fate would have, not even Mr. James could make the most out of this whole thing, the script is just seriously bad and it totally squanders whatever latent likability our lead actor here might have in favor of some mildly rude jokes that don’t work even in the simplest of levels.

Mr. James, who was awesome in TV’s The King of Queens and followed that up with a nice transition into movies with some charismatic performances in films like Hitch and even Paul Blart: Mall Cop, plays our titular zookeeper in this film who’s in the middle of two women. One is his icy ex-girlfriend who he still likes and wants to win back with the help of the very cute talking animals he works with, and the other is a co-worker of his who obviously would appreciate him much more for who he is than his ex ever would, but he doesn’t really notice that from the get-go because that’s just how these films go.

But please don’t think that Zookeeper has anything to do with the human story of it all, oh no, c’mon, it’s a high-budget summer movie for kids, of course human emotions aren’t the center of attention here, the talking animals are. And that’s when it fails, because the talking animals are just really poorly done, the mouths are just badly animated and the voices of the famous actors paid to lend their pipes sound as though they were recorded without any sort of footage to time their tone and delivery to which just makes this whole thing seem oddly disconnected and makes you realize that sometime voice-over work should be left to voice-over actors, as appealing as having this A-list roster of stars may sound at first. The whole thing is just bad, it relies too much on jokes to make Mr. James seem clumsy, it has some odd machism undertones and helluva lot of shameless product placement.

I get that this is really a well-meaning comedy about a nice guy who loves what he does and eventually wins the girl. I get it because Kevin James really is a nice guy, a likable everyday man who people usually connect to, and he plays this sweet guy who starts listening to the animals he tends after for love advice but even though on paper making a film like this as a money-grab may seem to make sense, you just have to believe that two separate and better films could have been made with the budget for this one, which with less than $95 million in the three weeks since it has been released hasn’t even been the money-grabbing move it was clearly designed as.

And I just have to take some time to again put forward a theory that regular readers of this blog may be familiar with, and that’s that nine times out of ten, whenever you have a script credited to more than three people it probably means the film will be quite bad. And that theory holds its own here, as a script worked on by five people, including Mr. James, fails to deliver in any way imaginable. And the direction here isn’t much better, as Frank Coraci, a long-time member of the Happy Madison clique formed by Adam Sandler, who here does a horrible job voicing a monkey, apparently had no control over his scenes and players and just had a huge amount of moments take a life of their own and run wild, some of them playing too big for their own and some of them not playing at all, just a bad job overall.

I will however, say one thing for Zookeeper, and this is the only reason why I will give the film a passing grade, and that’s that kids will have a ball with it. We are a time in which so many kiddie movies appeal greatly to adults as well though, so the “it’s a film aimed at kids so it only matters if they like it” excuse won’t fly here. But yeah, kids will love the story about the good guy who loved his job but that after losing the woman of his dreams starts pondering leaving his job unti, voilá, the animals start talking to him and telling him how to win her back. But adults will have issues with the badly-animated and badly-voiced animals, and with Mr. James being given such a bland starring role. So yeah, if it’s a particularly hot summer day and you’re AC system has broken down and you need the cool comfort of a theater then take the kids to see this one. If not, then you’re better off just popping Dr. Doolittle on the DVD and dozing off to that in the comfort of your own home.

Grade: C-


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