Zookeeper U; Comedy, Family Dir: Frank Coraci Cast: Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb; (Voices of) Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Adam Sandler, Nick Nolte Rating: *
It isn't too hard to imagine the conversation that must've taken place right before Zookeeper was green-lit by a bunch of studio executives...
"We need a clean, not-necessarily-funny family comedy that follows a predictable storyline and ends on a happy note. We need cute and cuddly animals and a hilarious lead actor who's great at generating laughs by falling down and hurting himself."
"Okay, how about we get Kevin James and put him in charge of a zoo?" "Perfect! Now all we need is a fail-safe formula. If only there were a couple of already successful movies whose success we could emulate by simply combining the tw--"
"Madagascar and Dr Dolittle??That's it! Approve this immediately! Uncork the '64 Pinot Noir!" Okay, so maybe we don't really know how these discussions take place in Hollywood, but it probably isn't too much of a stretch to call Zookeeper one of this year's most calculative and uninspired films.
Comedian Kevin James plays the warm-hearted Griffin who loves and is loved by all the animals at the zoo he works at. To say this is familiar territory for James would be an understatement, considering the fact that he has played basically the same role ever since his debut in 2005's Hitch, opposite Will Smith.
In Zookeeper, his character gets rejected and dumped by his disproportionately attractive girlfriend Stephanie (Bibb) right after he attempts to propose marriage to her. Instead of accepting this and moving on, Griffin mopes for about five years.
He relates the same story over and over again to the animals in the zoo while feeding them, ignorant of the fact that these animals start speaking slang-filled, New York accented English once the gates are shut. Naturally, the animals decide to help him out by playing matchmaker.
The animals here are voiced by some great actors: Stallone, Cher, Sandler and Nolte. Unfortunately the screenplay, credited to James and six other writers, is devoid of even a single chuckle-worthy moment. The jokes are so recycled that they might as well be items in a curio shop.
Other times, one has to physically restrain oneself from not cringing at the unbearably cheesy situations shown. One unbearably long sequence involves Griffin taking Bernie, a lonely gorilla in confinement for allegedly attacking a zoo worker, to T G I Friday's for a fun night out.
The makers of Zookeeper commit the cardinal sin of taking their audience for granted. This is the kind of movie that would've been made in the '90s, targeted specifically at kids. Unfortunately, children are a lot more informed and cynical than they used to be.