Theatrical Review: ZOOKEEPER

Brian Kelley

by: Brian Kelley
July 8th, 2011

Writers: Nick BakayRock ReubenKevin JamesJay ScherickDavid Ronn
Director: Frank Coraci
Cast: Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb, Ken Jeong, Donnie Wahlberg, Joe Rogan
Studio: Columbia Pictures

When Griffin Keyes (Kevin James) is shot down mid-proposal by his disproportionately attractive girlfriend Stephanie (Leslie Bibb), he pours himself into his work eventually being upgraded to Head Zookeeper. When Stephanie reenters his life, he finds himself falling for her once again. When they notice him bumbling around like a zoo animal, the zoo animals starting talking to him and coaching him in the ways of the pursuit of love. While simultaneously ignoring his beautiful co-worker Kate (Rosario Dawson) and her highly compatible interests and disposition and fending off Stephanie's other ex-boyfriend Gale (Joe Rogan), Griffin fights to rekindle past flames.

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The task of dissecting the enormous amount of failure on display in ZOOKEEPER can be broken into two parts - human and animal. The human characters are non-existent, they are poorly defined sketches of what someone thinks a family-style romantic comedy with talking animals should contain by default. This presents a major problem when your major dramatic core is defined by the fool torn between two women, Stephanie is so obviously wrong for him, such a self-serving, emotionally waifish horror of a person it's impossible Griffin could be so thunderstruck by her. One can't even point to her being the "hot" one either - put Dawson and Bibb in front a man and tell him he has his choice, it could only really boil down to which impossibly beautiful woman has the more compatible personality.

None of the actors portraying the characters seem to be enjoying themselves making their head-slap inducing lines even more painful to witness. James puts forth his lowest common denominator style of physical comedy and both women, while each handing in at least respectable performances, have a constant look in their eyes that says, "Wait. Why do I care about this idiot?" Whether or not you think Ken Jeong has reach his point of over-saturation (he has), it's hard to argue that he's not reliable for a few good over-the-top guffaws. In ZOOKEEPER, though, even he looks embarrassed, his performance so toned down he barely registers as himself.

As for the zoo creatures, live action talking animal effects technology has reached a level where pointing out that the moving lips are seamlessly integrated isn't even a compliment anymore. Voice acting from an impressive cast including Nick Nolte, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, and Jon Favreau is presented with a bare minimum of effort and the voices rarely match the personality of the animal in which they are placed. The biggest offender is Adam Sandler as Donald the Monkey. He is so loud and obnoxious and miscast he shatters any potential illusion the film may have (not to mention manages to make a monkey unfunny).

Yeah, but ZOOKEEPER funny? No, it's not. It's too lowbrow and safe for adults to have fun with and the animals so devoid of personality because of the odd voicing, children are left to ponder the romantic decisions of Griffin. Working with a script painfully free of jokes, director Frank Coraci (THE WATERBOY, THE WEDDING SINGER, CLICK) displays no ambition beyond pointing the camera at James and letting him fall or at an elephant that will later have a voice added and then slapping it all together later in the editing room. The flow of the film is like a flushing toilet bowl that never empties, the lack of laughter making the circular plotting even more repetitive and painful. ZOOKEEPER feels like it has at least 5 acts and has no business being 104 minutes long. The one sign of life in the film, the one moment of potential, comes when Griffin and Kate, posing as each other's date at a wedding in an attempt to make Stephanie jealous, meet on a dance floor where some acrobats' ribbons are hanging from the ceiling. They take up the ribbons, swinging around the dance floor, and enjoy an actual tender moment together. It would be touching if the scene didn't end with a totally predictable, totally not funny bit of slapstick.

In Stewart Raffill's infamous E.T. knockoff MAC AND ME there is a scene in which all customers at a McDonald's inexplicably break out into dance making the restaurant with the golden arches look like the most fun place on Earth. Frequently pointed to as a one of the most shameless examples of product placement, the scene now has a rival. In ZOOKEEPER, Griffin takes a sad and abused gorilla out to T.G.I. Friday's for a birthday pick-me-up. Through a loud and bright montage, the restaurant is portrayed as the epicenter of off-the-charts entertainment- everyone is dancing, laughing,  and carrying on with even the bartenders getting in on the action by spraying the celebratory crowd and Griffin and his guitar with showers of soda. Where in MAC AND ME the McDonald's bit is presented with the palpable spirit of anything-goes b-movie filmmaking, the similar scene in ZOOKEEPER plays like an obnoxiously volumed commercial in the middle of the film punctuated by an ill-advised moment of near-bestiality where a waitress and the gorilla engage in some heavy dance floor petting. It's hard to imagine anyone who would want to sit through such awkward, unfunny garbage.

Grade: D-

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