On first glance at the poster, you’d be forgiven in thinking it was Night At The Museum: Part 3, only starring cuddly comedian Kevin James of Paul Blart: Mall Cop fame, instead of Ben Stiller. Well, you’ve got the animal business right – and the cute/irritating monkey (depending on your stance). James acting the monkey, with the monkey (or gorilla in this case) provides the funniest moments of Frank Coraci’s new family animal comedy, Zookeeper (co-penned by James), that peddles the same old tired format of ‘animals overcoming man’s personal and social problems’.
James is Griffin Keyes, a man who loves his job as a zookeeper but who loses a girlfriend (played by Leslie Bibb) over his lack of ambition to move up the corporate ladder. After a pep talk from his successful car salesman brother and another encounter with his ex, Keyes decides to leave the zoo for pastures new. However, the animals at the zoo are very fond of Keyes and decide to break their code of silence in order to help their lovable zookeeper find love – without opting to leave his current job for something more illustrious.
Zookeeper starts out with some promise, albeit tongue-in-cheek slapstick action, with James as Keyes trying to propose on a beach. The funny man has developed his own brand of ‘pity the big fool’ humour and nothing much changes here: It’s endearing and disarming, which is what makes any of his characters instantly good-natured underdogs that you can get behind. Plus we like to see the big dope get the good-looking gal, as he does here. Rosario Dawson as attractive colleague Kate is fun to watch, too, and gets better exposure as the film goes on. However, she merely makes up the human character ranks, rather than getting the chance to provide any memorable comic gems.
At one point at the start, private prayers were muttered along the lines of, “Oh please Lord, don’t make this a real-action/CG version of the original Madagascar, full of street-wise, wise-cracking, tedious animals who escape their confines”. We know the outcome of the story straightaway from Keyes’s first meet-cute, so there needs to be something else to go along for the ride for. Indeed, as the film goes on, and Coraci sensibly keeps the animals in the compound, Zookeeper ramps up the idiocy and the gags, including a eye-wateringly funny classic TGI Fridays eye-popping moment, some cheesy wedding dancing that sees James defy gravity, and a Candid Camera case of bad driving that’s left to unfold to provide one of the most hilarious scenes of the whole film.
The trouble is, it’s made-to-measure holiday fun, without anything unique to it and rather bland animals – apart from Nick Nolte’s Bernie the Gorilla. But if you’re a big James fan, it’s a feast of silliness to indulge on. At times, there are too many gags placed one after the other and adult references that made the adults snigger (or roll eyes upwards), but begin to bore the youngsters – and vice versa with dumb-down or blatantly obvious/crude humour.
If animals and comedians acting up are your bag, Zookeeper is a big, daft, soppy and beasty love tale that’s tame and inoffensive enough to kill time this summer holiday – the trouble is, the adult soul-mate searching part may tire the kids (and some adults), even with James and the film-makers’ good, clean intentions.
By Lisa Giles-Keddie
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE