Tracy Bennett/Sony Pictures
Tracy Bennett/Sony Pictures
Review in a Hurry: Kevin James goes from mall cop to zoo dude, but the results are just as disappointing. He's a guy in love with a gal who's not worth his time, but he has a posse full of animals that can actually speak voiced by Sylvester Stallone and Cher among others. And they're all ready to help him woo his mate.
Little kids might love the critters, but adults will have a hard time caring about the disjointed plot. No one will dig the long running time. How many poop jokes from an Adam Sandler monkey does one film need?
The Bigger Picture: Ever since his breakout as Will Smith's pal in Hitch, Kevin James has played role after role as the charming guy whose heart is as oversized as his frame. But as seen in Paul Blart and now, Zookeeper, that one mode of acting is not enough.
Griffin (James) has been a zookeeper for nearly a decade, but apparently even in these hard economic times, that awesome-sounding job isn't enough for his shrill girlfriend Stephanie (Leslie Bibb, who must be frustrated that this is the only role she gets anymore). She dumps him the moment he proposes to her. A few years later, Griffin is still working at the zoo, but his ex (who's now older and out of options) is thinking maybe she should have stayed with him. He still loves her (why?), but has no idea how to get her back. Right there, this feels disingenuous. Why does the script by James, Nick Bakay and Rock Reuben need Griffin to bend over backward for his ex if she clearly already wants him back? We're meant to believe it's because he's still got that "loser" job taking care of all those animals. Meanwhile, his coworker looks like Rosario Dawson and loves Griffin for who he is. Riiight.
Eventually this leads to the zoo animals revealing their secret to Griffin. They can talk! (And if you make it to the credits, they can sing...badly.) The CG lip-syncing looks cheap. There's Sly the Lion, Sandler the monkey and Maya Rudolph as a sassy giraffe. All speaking on top of each other. And it never feels like they're having the same conversation.
Odds are little kids won't notice. But all that would be OK if the antics of the zoo weren't disrupted to spend time with Griffin and his human pals like Ken Jeong. It isn't remotely convincing to see Griffin go to a wedding with his beard Rosario to try and make his ex jealous. Either go 100 percent with the talking animals concept or do the rom-com thing. Director Frank Coraci (The Waterboy) never finds the right tone.
As an actor James can't handle the ups and downs of the character. He's got that earnest-guy thing down, but trying to man up or roar like a lion falls flat. Without James to anchor the film, Zookeeper is a botched idea that's mildly diverting at best and a confusing mess at worst.
The 180—a Second Opinion: About halfway thru, Griffin breaks a gorilla out of his cage and heads to a TGI Friday. Nick Nolte providing the voice for the ape is weird and silly in a good way, and this scene is the only moment that feels unexpected and fresh.