When will Kevin James learn that just because Adam Sandler’s producing and appearing, it doesn’t mean a film is going to be a comedy classic?
The animals at Franklin Park Zoo love their kind hearted caretaker, Griffin Keyes (Kevin James). Finding himself more comfortable with a lion than a lady, Griffin decides the only way to get the girl of his dreams back in his life is to leave the zoo and find a more glamorous job. In a panic, the animals break their time-honoured code of silence and reveal their biggest secret: they can talk! To keep Griffin from leaving, they decide to teach him the rules of courtship – animal style…
It’s official: Kevin James needs his head checking! The former funny man has yet again put his name to something that should never have even been green-lighted. It’s a shame, as once upon a time James proved that he could be the lovable, tubby comedian in a series of films that were actually tolerable. Unfortunately, it seems his steady slide into pure drivel has finally ended in what can only be described as the shoddy, not-very-funny comedy, Zookeeper. Perhaps this is a slightly harsh examination, as there have certainly been worse films released than this, but Zookeeper is severely lacking something.
For a start, those responsible for it could obviously not make up their mind as to whether it was going to be a family film or a romantic comedy. What this results in is a bland blend of rom com tropes and a seriously unsophisticated tone. The film explores adult themes (the idea of having to change your personality for a relationship to work), yet plays these out amongst a distinctly immature set of characters (predominantly the talking animals). Through this indecision the film proves too ridiculous to work as a rom com that would appeal to adult viewers and yet isn’t really silly or outrageous enough to fully exploit the kids film genre.
There are so many moments where opportunities have been missed to create something ridiculously hilarious. When Griffin befriends Bernie the gorilla and takes him out of the zoo to explore the city a little, the two sing along to Flo Rider’s hit single ‘Low’ – which is slightly humorous – but fail to put the characters into a genuinely comical moment such as being pulled over by the police, for example. The only genuinely hilarious sequence is when Griffin mounts an adult tricycle to chase former love Stephanie and her new feller Gale. Griffin and Gale face off on the bikes with hilarious consequences that find Gale coming a cropper on numerous occasions and Griffin weaving his way through busy traffic! However, this short lived moment isn’t enough to save the film from being anything other than pretty dull. The majority of comic sequences fall flat and adult viewers will find at the end of the film that they can count the number of times they’ve laughed out loud on one hand… Ultimately, Zookeeper feels as if it should have been an animated family adventure along the lines of a Disney/Pixar or Dreamworks release: something just doesn’t quite gel as a live action feature. Plus, it’s very depressing when an absurd film such as Brendan Fraser’s Furry Vengeance is actually far funnier!
Despite boasting a cast of well known talent, Zookeeper remains a rather sorry affair. James brings his usual brand of slightly pathetic but ultimately rather likeable personality to the proceedings and the film is by no means a stretch for him in the performance arena. Despite pretty much playing a cardboard cut out of nearly every other character he’s been in all his previous features, there’s something a little bit irritating about Griffin. James proves adept at playing the luckless in love character, but viewers will find it hard not to wish he’d snap out of it a little, grow a pair and tell Stephanie to take a running jump! Griffin is a pretty pathetic character and whilst James nails his portrayal, it’s nothing but a mediocre performance. Rosario Dawson proves she’s a talented actress that is just as capable of playing comedy and being a romantic lead as she is of being the badass tough chick. However, despite her abilities she still seems sorely miscast here. She certainly has the intelligence and warmth in her performance to portray a veterinary doctor, but just like with the narrative, something isn’t quite right. There’s certainly enough chemistry between Dawson and James to convince viewers that there’s an attraction between them, but there would undoubtedly have been a more suitable choice for the part.
Leslie Bibb as Griffin’s former girlfriend Stephanie is the right mixture of emasculator and heartbreaker. Bibb’s performance blends bitchiness with delusion and audiences know immediately that Griffin shouldn’t be chasing her. Despite her abilities to give a performance with the right characteristics, Bibb remains rather stilted and wooden in her performance, lacking adequate comic timing or proficient delivery of dialogue. The voice talent behind the talking animals is a similarly mixed bag, with some comical performances and others that fall as flat as the majority of the jokes. Adam Sandler provides the voice of Donny the monkey and he brings his usual strong sense of comic timing, but borders on the irritating with his stupid put on voice. Sylvester Stallone gives Joe the lion a voice and exhibits the right characteristics of a stubborn, alpha male. However, his monotonous drone makes the character less than exciting and utterly unmemorable. Cher provides the vocals for Joe’s wife, Janet the lioness, and gives a similarly drab performance to Stallone. Neither really give the impression that they possess the wisdom to assist Griffin in his pursuit of Stephanie. Nick Nolte breathes life into Bernie the gorilla and is the only voice talent that gets any major screen time. He gives a solid enough performance to humanise the character, but his permanent drunken sounding Southern slur begins to grate very quickly. Admirable support comes from Joe Rogan (as Gale), Maya Rudolph (as Mollie the Giraffe), Faizon Love (as Bruce the bear) and Jon Favreau (as Bruce the bear), but unfortunately they are all underused.
The quality of Sony Pictures’ Blu-ray release far surpasses that of the actual narrative here, giving viewers a glimpse of the spectacular potential the medium has. Visuals are close to perfect and virtually flawless, with no noticeable grain, distortion or other forms of blemishing polluting the screen at any point. Images are crystal clear, sharp and generally have a strong sense of depth and reality to them. Colours are rich, vibrant and well defined. The opening beach sequence immediately demonstrates to viewers how fresh and effervescent the print is with its beautiful array of icy blue tones and warm orangey-red hues. Throughout the entire film the onscreen images could quite easily be confused for retouched high quality digital photographs they are that striking.
The audio is of a similar high quality, with only rudimentary issues. For the most part dialogue is clean and clear, but there are occasional sequences where some lines are less intelligible. These are generally the animals’ lines and could be more to do with the fact that some of the vocal talent have put humorous voices on, rather than the actual audio quality. Elsewhere, the ambient sounds are stellar and the background noise in the zoo, in particular, transports viewers into the heart of the location. The musical soundtrack predominantly consists of classic Dad Rock tracks (like Boston’s More Than a Feeling) and these feel like a new lease of life has been breathed into them through the higher quality audio channels. Overall, on a technical level, Zookeeper is stunning.
Sony Pictures’ Zookeeper release features some entertaining bonus material that is both informative and engaging, keeping those keen to discover more about the production happy. Whilst the featurettes are not particularly in depth, they reveal enough to warrant a watch. The following collection of supplementary features can be found on the release:
• Laughing is Contagious – Blooper reel.
• The Cast of Zookeeper featurette.
• Bernie the Gorilla featurette.
• The Furry Co-Stars featurette.
• Creating the Visual Effects featurettes – Split into: Making the Animals Talk, Riding an Ostrich and Animal Meeting.
• Be the Bear featurette.
• Behind the Stunts featurette.
• Deleted Scenes.
• A playable game demo of Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One for those watching on a PS3.
• Movie IQ viewing mode – Connects viewers to real-time information on the cast, music, trivia and more while watching the movie.
Film: 2 out of 5
Zookeeper suffers from lack of direction, an only mildly amusing script, a not overly engaging narrative and a mixed bag of performances. Perhaps more suitable to plonk the kids in front of rather than sitting down as a family to enjoy, Zookeeper never reaches its potential and sorely lacks originality. If you’ve watched any Kevin James movie, you’ve already seen Zookeeper!
Visuals: 5 out of 5
Crystal clear images, stunningly vibrant colours and near perfect visual quality means that Zookeeper looks fantastic on Sony Pictures HD release. From the opening shots to the final credits, the images within Zookeeper could easily be mistaken for Photo-Shopped stills. Viewers will certainly not be disappointed by the films excellent demonstration of the Blu-ray formats potential.
Audio: 4 out of 5
The audio is of a similarly high quality to the visuals, with only a few minor hiccups. Dialogue for the most part is clean and intelligible, with a few instances where certain lines are a little muffled and harder to decipher. Ambient noises (particularly the zoo sounds) and the Dad Rock soundtrack fill the remaining audio channels and submerge viewers into the heart of the films action.
Extras: 3.5 out of 5
The series of mini documentary featurettes send audiences behind the scenes of the film and prove to be very engaging, with some interesting interviews and humorous backstage footage. Although the film lacks an in depth making of or director’s commentary, these will likely reveal enough for most viewers.
Presentation: 4 out of 5
The bright and colourful front cover of the release reflects the vibrancy of the film’s visuals and seems to make the conscious decision to market the film towards younger viewers. The menus are well designed and extremely easy to navigate, meaning you can happily leave the kids to manoeuvre around the disc alone.
Overall: 2.5 out of 5
There’s no denying it, Sony Pictures have put together an extremely slick package that incorporates flawless visuals and a thorough mix of entertaining bonus material, but it’s just not enough to compensate for what can only be described as a mediocre and not overly engaging film.
Zookeeper is available now on Blu-ray.