BLOGS

<I>Zookeeper</I>: The Talking Animals Are More Dimensional Than the Humans

If you thought Paul Blart was the most genius comedy of the last decade, or have a particular affection for all things talking animal related, then this is the film for you. For the rest of the world (including myself), this movie is about as entertaining as you'd expect, by which I mean that there are perhaps ten genuinely funny minutes (I might be rounding up a tad) during the hour and a half running time. According to the credits, five people wrote this movie, but I honestly wish that the person responsible for the opening proposal scene had contributed more, because that might have upped the overall quality from a D to a solid C+.

The film begins with the amusing image of Kevin James and Leslie Bibb riding a horse on a beach, where the duo spot a bottle with a message in it. It's his carefully planned out proposal note, which is received poorly. Apparently, this snooty, grating woman can't possibly see herself spending her life with a zookeeper, and would prefer him to be more ambitious. He's the head zookeeper, but the film still spends most of its time trying to convince us that it isn't a valid profession, and that selling exotic cars to people who can't afford them is a much better life choice. His proposal also involved a mariachi band, more riding on the beach, and fireworks, and the sight of the recently split couple being forced to still ride back on the same horse is kind of brilliant.

From there, we fast-forward five years and find that James' Griffin still working at the zoo and doing his best to provide the animals in his care with some creature comforts. While Donald the Monkey (voiced by Adam Sandler) and Barry the Elephant (voiced by Judd Apatow) are especially appreciative of his efforts, Bernie the Gorilla (voiced by Nick Nolte) is still in a major depression after a bad run-in with zookeeper Shane (played by Donnie Wahlberg -- because by law every movie set in Boston must have a Wahlberg or an Affleck in it). Griffin has developed a friendship with his vet co-worker Kate (Rosario Dawson), who seems to appreciate his tenderness with the animals. But things take a turn when Griffin's brother Glenn (Matthew R. Staley) gets married and invites Stephanie (Bibb) to the engagement party at the zoo and seems to insinuate that Griffin is the one that got away.

After hours, the animals convene (Lion King style) and discuss (yes, discuss) Griffin's problem, and decide that if they help him get the girl, then he'll stay and work at the zoo. When he starts to bumble his attempts at wooing Stephanie back, the animals actually begin to talk to him (which freaks him out... until it doesn't) and give him advice based on how things roll in the animal kingdom -- marking territory, puffing out your chest, etc. Even Bernie decides to assist Griffin, earning himself a night out in the longest commercial for T.G.I. Friday's that I have ever seen in my life.

But Griffin has a big obstacle to overcome in the form of Gale (Joe Rogan), who is Stephanie's other ex, and he's also the biggest douche on the planet. He's full of himself, uber-athletic, rude and claims to be amazing at everything. (Let's just say that it's a good thing Fear Factor is coming back for Rogan's sake.) And then, of course, Griffin decides to use Kate to help him make Stephanie jealous. Anyone who has ever seen any movie should be able to figure out where that plot is heading from a mile away.

The film has its moments but underserves all of its human characters by making them two-dimensional: Wahlberg is a thug; Bibb is a selfish bitch; Kate is perfectly nice; Ken Jeong (who plays a reptile wrangler named Venom) is just a pervy guy. There are no shades of gray with any of them. At least the monkey is also handy at breaking and entering and obsessed with opposable thumbs. And the lion couple have relationship issues about who is the dominant one, while the bears have an odd couple vibe about them. The humans have none of that, most especially James, who comes across as a dimwit who can't figure out anything about his life, and just lets thing happen to him. The only fully evolved character is Bernie, who likes kayaking, polo shirts and chain restaurants, in addition to having a somewhat touching backstory. Overall, I'd much rather watch a King of Queens marathon or spend the day at an actual zoo with animals who don't verbally sass back at me than ever see (or think about) this forgettable movie again.

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