Sony // 2011 // 102 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard // October 5th, 2011
Don't Talk To The Animals...Unless They Talk To You First.
With $80 million, you could do a lot of good. You could literally save thousands of lives, help those in need, and really make a huge contribution to benefit your fellow man -- or you could finance a movie like Zookeeper. Yes, saving lives is all very well and good, but come on, wouldn't you rather have Sylvester Stallone (Rocky) provide a comedy voice for a lion? Of course you would!
Five years after being rejected by his girlfriend, Stephanie (Leslie Bibb, Popular), on the grounds that she found his job as a zookeeper a turn off, Griffin Keyes (Kevin James, Hitch) finds himself alone, with just the animals he looks after to keep him company.
When Stephanie returns, Griffin questions whether he should in fact leave the zoo to be with the girl he loves. Standing in his way, however, is Stephanie's new beau, Gale (Joe Rogan). Realizing that Griffin is going to need all the help he can get, the animals of the zoo decide to break their code and reveal their secret to him: they can talk. So, after the initial shock has worn off, the furry critters set about teaching Griffin how to woo Stephanie, animal style!
Having endured Zookeeper, it's fair to say I'm clearly not the target audience for this movie. Expanding on that a little further, it's probably safe to assume that anyone with an IQ over 78, and who doesn't have a soft spot for gags about men urinating on animals will also come to the conclusion that Zookeeper blows.
To be totally honest, I really didn't expect it to be otherwise, but what was so surprising was my young son's reaction to Zookeeper. As a frame of reference, my son (a toddler) loves monsters, dinosaurs, and animals; his favorite movie of all time is Night at the Museum. Although he appreciates Ben Stiller's comedy mugging, particularly the shot where he takes a hockey puck in the face, it is the menagerie of animals and a T-Rex that brings him back for more. Say what you will about Night at the Museum, but it at least seems aware of its faults (i.e., a spotty screenplay), and makes the most of its fantastical elements to craft a entertaining family picture. Back to Zookeeper then, and though the scenes of the talking animals kept my son's attention, he frequently lost interest with the film due to the romantic thread that runs throughout it. Really, did anyone expect kids to care whether Griffin wins back the girl who so callously rejected him at the start of the movie? It is little wonder the trailers for Zookeeper were so vague, as what constitutes a story here is deathly dull.
This all leads to the screenplay, which is the crux of the problems that plague Zookeepeer. Who exactly was the target audience the writers (which includes James, and a number of writers from Spin City and The King of Queens) had in mind when scripting this turkey? More importantly, is it a rom-com, or a film about talking animals? I ask because these two elements sit less comfortably than my uncle after another bout of hemorrhoids. The story is also weighed down by an obvious character arc for Griffin that sees him go from nice guy, to jerk, to nice guy again before the credits roll. If the film has a message, it's "Just be yourself...that's all you need to do." Of course, this is the same message that we've been getting from movies for years; it may be true, but I don't need to sit through 100 minutes of crap to understand it. The film also insults its audience by having Griffin pine after the materialistic and completely odious character of Stephanie. Why, beyond her looks, would anybody be attracted to such a vile harpy? By the third act, I was really hoping Griffin ended up with her, simply for being so dumb as to actually try and woo her while the lovely Kate (Rosario Dawson, Sin City) is clearly the girl he should be with.
Of course, there are occasional moments that work. A scene where Griffin takes Bernie the Gorilla (voiced by Nick Nolte, Hulk) to a bar for his birthday is pretty funny, as is the performance of Ken Jeong (The Hangover), who is making a habit of being the best part of any movie he appears in. I'm torn over Kevin James's input. On the one hand, I think James is a decent comic performer. On the other hand, as a writer on the movie, he was responsible for the awful slapstick that dominates his role. It may get a giggle or two from little ones, but there are only so many times even they will laugh at a guy falling on his ass. Likewise Rosario Dawson deserves much, much better than the underwritten role she's given.
Technically at least, the Zookeeper DVD is a winner. The 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer is excellent, with a sharp, clean picture. Colors are bright, and black levels solid. The level of detail is very good throughout. The 5.1 soundtrack is equally impressive.
The DVD comes with several featurettes. The first, "Laughing Is Conatgious" is merely a gag reel. "Bernie The Gorilla" discusses the work involved in bringing the character to life. "Creating The Visual Effects" is broken down into three small featurettes: "Making The Animals Talk," "Animal Meeting," and "Riding An Ostrich." Each is fairly self-explanatory, and go into a little detail over how certain sequences and effects were achieved. Finally, "The Furry Co-Stars" gives a behind-the-scenes look at how the cast and crew got on with working with the live animals.
Zookeeper is the kind of movie that baffles me. Just who is giving the greenlight to these abominations? You have a good cast, a slick-looking production, and a big budget. Why in the hell would you waste it on a screenplay that lives and dies on poop jokes made by a monkey?
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Gag Reel