By Gary ‘Cheetah’ Murray
Starring Kevin James, Rosario Dawson and Leslie Bibb
Written by Nick Bakay & Rick Reuben & Kevin James and Jack Scherick & David Ronn
Directed by Frank Coraci
Running time 104 min
MPAA Rating PG
Selig Film Rating Matinee
The production company Happy Madison is the umbrella group that makes all the Adam Sandler films. But like all smart businessmen, Mr. Sandler has been branching out and producing products for other comics. He has worked with a gaggle of funny men, making them into household names and creating his own corral of stars. His newest production is the family-centered Kevin James comedy Zookeeper.
The film starts five years ago with Griffin (Kevin James) riding a horse on a sandy beach. His girlfriend Stephanie (Leslie Bibb) sits on the back of the stallion. They spot a message in a bottle on the surf. Stephanie pulls out the note and it is a wedding proposal. Griffin is on bended knee and she rejects him because he is a zookeeper and not living up to his potential.
We jump forward five years and Griffin is now in charge of the Franklin Park Zoo and still hurt from his rejection. He works with Kate (Rosario Dawson) who shows that same passion for the animals. She lets everyone know that there is an offer for her to transfer to Nairobi. Griffin does not want her to leave.
Griffin has a newly engaged brother who runs a high-end car dealership and wants Griffin to join his team. Griffin is content with his job. At an engagement party thrown at the zoo, Stephanie shows up. Newly off the rebound, she begins to think that Griffin could be changed into the man she wants. She makes her intentions known which throws Griffin into a manic quandary.
The zoo animals hear of this and have a meeting to figure out what to do. It seems that all the animals at the zoo can not only talk, but talk to each other. They decide to help Griffin win his girl by using all the animal techniques of seduction. The animals also teach Griffin how to deal with a rival, namely Stephanie’s ex-boyfriend Gale (Joe Rogan).
The lions are voiced by Sylvester Stallone and Cher. Nick Nolte is the gorilla kept away from the rest of the displayed animals because of a lie about his character and an attack. Producer Adam Sandler is the little monkey who thinks that Griffin should just fling poo.
The film is of Griffin winning Stephanie and turning into a different person, a person he doesn’t really like. The concept of the film is about being yourself is the only way to find true love.
Kevin James channels every silent comic from Fatty Arbuckle to Oliver Hardy with is portrayal of Griffin. He does all the pratfalls and silliness one expects from this old comedic art-form. Following their advice, he pretends to be a bear and a wolf. At times he is very crude, but it is a juvenile style of humor. He prances around acting like an animal which generates most of the laughs.
Rosario Dawson does a great job in a small thankless role as Kate. She is such a bright light in Zookeeper one begins to wonder just exactly why she doesn’t have more roles in Hollywood. There is just this spark whenever she is on screen, drawing the audience into the performance.
The most amazing aspect of Zookeeper is the presentation of the gorilla Bernie. With a combination of winning special effects and old school film trickery, the production team gives the audience a character full of life. The scenes where Bernie the Gorilla and Griffin go to T.G.I.Fridays deliver the biggest laughs of the entire piece. The montage of their night out creates the single highlight of the film.
In the final analysis, Zookeeper wasn’t a bad experience and much better than expected. While it feels like half a dozen movies one has seen before, there are also little bits of originality in the mix. With five writer, one would expect something more inventive. It is never going to win any awards but it will do some solid business with families and those who like adults making total fools of themselves.