ZOOKEEPER Review: Another Mediocre Kevin James Comedy

While it has slightly more going for it than most other talking animal films – Zookeeper still relies on juvenile, occasionally inappropriate humour with Kevin James struggling to find a project best-suited to his comic skills.

rating: 2.5

Kevin James is a funny guy, no question, but when was the last time we saw him in something even remotely amusing? Paul Blart: Mall Cop had its occasional moments, but that aside, we have to hearken back to the role which made him known to most viewers, as the doughy no-hoper who needs love advice in Hitch. Zookeeper, meanwhile, isn't as unbearable as most similar talking animal flicks, but it's still low on laughs and is thoroughly inadequate as a vehicle for James' talent. This time, as co-writer, however, he gets more than his share of the blame. James plays Griffin Keyes, a zookeeper who plans an elaborate marriage proposal to the love of his life, Stephanie (Leslie Bibb), before she summarily rejects him due to the low stature of his job. Years later, when a chance encounter with Stephanie inspires him to try and win her back, his brother Dave (Nat Faxon) suggests taking a job at his car dealership to demonstrate his new and improved social status. However, the animals of the zoo, afraid of Griffin's leaving, decide to band together and help him unleash his animalistic side to win Steph back on his own terms. Probably the most curious thing about Zookeeper is that, in fact, the animals don't figure in as much as you'd expect; beginning with a blandly banal romantic-rejection set-up, it's a while before the yapping bears and monkeys even show up. Unfortunately, once it does, it's mostly quite dull, with the animals performing yawn-inducingly human actions (such as trying to order pizza), with the voice actors not really getting much material befitting their talents. For instance, it'll probably be a while before you even realise the the likes of Sylvester Stallone and Adam Sandler are among the cast, though surprisingly, Sandler probably gets the funniest moments as an uppity monkey. The film mostly fleets between James doing his fat-guy prat-fall humour and the talking animal shtick €“ admittedly immaculately rendered as it is €“ and for a film of this type it surprisingly focuses on the humans more than the animals, which perhaps makes it slightly more tolerable even if there€™s no way to characterise this as a good film. To its credit, it does at least do more with its gimmick than most similar films; an episode in which Griffin takes a socially awkward gorilla, Bernie (Nick Nolte), out on the town - pretending that he€™s a man in a suit - to dinner and such, is more peculiarly surreal than gratingly cute; it raises a smirk simply due to its sheer strangeness. Rosario Dawsonalso deserves a world of credit for trying to bring some class to proceedings; she€™s a luminous romantic interest and makes the film far more interesting than it otherwise would be €“ a scene in which her and Griffin swing around a dance hall actually works €“ thanks to her relaxed, believable chemistry with James, even if the overall arc is utterly predictable and cloying. While it has slightly more going for it than most other talking animal films €“ simply because it doesn€™t sacrifice the human characters for their CGI counterparts €“ Zookeeper still relies on juvenile, occasionally inappropriate humour (not just crude, but quite brazenly sexual for a kids film) and easy gags, while the talented James again struggles to find a project best-suited to his comic skills. It€™s not quite as bad as expected, but it still makes more jokes out of the male genital region than any film aimed at children ever should. Zookeeper is released in the U.K. today!
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Frequently sleep-deprived film addict and video game obsessive who spends more time than is healthy in darkened London screening rooms. Follow his twitter on @ShaunMunroFilm or e-mail him at shaneo632 [at] gmail.com.