Directed By: Frank Coraci
Written By: Nick Bakay, Rock Reuben
Cast: Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb. Donnie Wahlberg, Joe Rogan
Screened at: AMC Empire, NYC, 7/6/11
Opens: July 8, 2011
Some guys seem unable to make the scene with the babes, at least with the ones that our culture considers hot. There are ways to correct this flaw, the most imaginative being told in Rostand’s novel “Cyrano de Bergerac,” wherein the handsome but tongue-tied Christian hires the physically ugly but poetic Cyrano to hide and become Christian’s voice. A similar idea is present in Frank Coraci’s “Zookeeper,” in which a rotund but well-meaning fellow has his marriage proposal turned down on a romantic beach while riding horseback against a background of fireworks and mariachi singers. His problem is that he’s only a zookeeper, however beloved by the animals and one of his colleagues, but his girlfriend wants him to be something more dignified and lucrative.
Nick Bakay and Rock Reuben, who scripted this movie, have a solution. The animals in the zoo, fearing that the zookeeper will take up an offer by his brother’s car dealership and resign from the zoo, reveal a secret. They speak English, they can talk to human beings, and they can offer good advice, like “feel your inner bear.” This concept may have been borrowed from “The Wizard of Oz,” though in reverse. There, a scarecrow, a tin man and a lion are in need of a brain, a heart, and courage. It’s difficult enough to make this comparison because “Zookeeper” is no “Wizard of Oz.” In fact the “comedy” ranges from mildly amusing to insipid to downright embarrassing, which could mean that it will be a hit with its target audience of, maybe, 8 to 11-year-olds. Though dealing with romance, Frank Coraci, who honed his talent on films like Adam Sandler vehicles “The Waterboy” and, better, “The Wedding Singer,” is more intent on providing slapstick than honest sentiment, not unusual since there’s a resemblance both in features and in actions between its unfunny star, Kevin James, and the equally unfunny Bud Abbott.
The story finds Griffin Keyes (Kevin James) happy in his vocation as head keeper in Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo but crushed when Stephanie (Leslie Bibb), his girlfriend of five years, rejects a marriage proposal because she cannot see herself marrying a man with, to her small mind, a lowly job. Why a striving woman like Stephanie would date the guy for all this time, and, in fact, has a thuggish ex-boyfriend, Gale (Joe Rogan), is a question that eight-year-olds in the audience would probably not ponder. Griffin turns to his animals for advice on winning the girl back. Joe the Lion advises that he should get her away from her current boyfriend, though this seems absurd since he and Stephanie had considerable time with just each other already. The lioness wife counsels that he should make Stephanie jealous by showing up with a hot date at an upcoming affair. Two bears suggest acting like a predator. The monkey is more concerned with bragging that he has a thumb (able to pick up a cappuccino?). Yet Griffin’s solution is right in front of him. The zoo’s vet, Kate (Rosario Dawson), has feelings for him just the way he is, and he for her, but both are in denial. When Kate agrees to be Griffin’s date at a function to be attended by Stephanie and her current beau, Gale, Griffin is stunned by how great his colleague looks. From there, some eight-year-olds and all ten-year-olds can see where the plot is going.
The point: Be Yourself, hardly the most original theme. However, in getting this concept across, Coraci relies on the broadest comedy, the only Apatow-esque feature in this PG entry being that Griffin “marks territory” with the bear, though discreetly. Some animals like the elephant are real, the gorilla inhabited by a human being with Nick Nolte providing the conversation, and others products of computer graphics, each critter vocalized by an actor. Given the inanity of the dialogue, perhaps allowing animals, also, to be themselves instead of graphics and human voices would have improved the story.
Rated PG. 104 minutes. (c) 2011 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online