Is this supposed to be a joke? Zookeeper is so unbelievably stupid that it may not have been intended as a serious movie, but rather as a prank concocted by the studio heads. Paying audiences are not the only victims, here; let us not forget the likes of Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, and Nick Nolte, all of whom I respect as actors. They too are getting the short end of the stick. Now that the powers that be at Columbia Pictures and MGM have had a good laugh, they owe it to them – and to us – to distribute a film that shows something of an effort being made, story wise. Effort is clearly seen in other areas, most notably in animal training and puppet effects, but so what? If I can’t be made to care about the plot, I certainly can’t be made to care about its technical achievements.
Not since Furry Vengeance have filmmakers labored so mightily on so little. Here is a family comedy in which the laughs come not from the jokes, which are strained beyond the point of exhaustion, but from the underlying premise, which is spectacularly bad. To be clear, these are not the good laughs, the ones that come from precise timing, witty punch lines, and inherently funny scenarios; these are the bad laughs, the once that stem from incredulity. If it’s true that camp can only be found and not made, then you bottom feeders of midnight cult cinema might want to keep an eye on this one. I suspect it will be quite some time before you will find a more unintentionally hilarious movie to make fun.
The plot, as it were, involves Griffin Keyes (James), a zookeeper at Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo. It’s precisely because of his job that his love life hasn’t exactly panned out; five years before the events of this movie, his ex-girlfriend, Stephanie (Leslie Bibb), flatly rejected his marriage proposal. Although he’s now lonely and socially inept, he’s really good with animals. When his brother (Nat Fixon) gets married, this, somehow or another, brings Stephanie back into the picture. She’s now dating an overly competitive athlete named Gale (Joe Rogan), but it seems she still has feelings for Griffin. If only he would quit his zookeeping job and become a car salesman, like his brother; maybe then she could find it in her heart to give him a second chance. Griffin is determined to win her back, but unfortunately, he doesn’t know the first thing about getting her attention.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting. As it turns out, the animals in the zoo can talk. They have, in fact, always possessed the ability to talk. They have all apparently taken a code to keep silent in the presence of humans, since they wouldn’t be able to handle it. Knowing how desperate Griffin is, they decide to break their silence and give him dating advice. According to Joe the Lion (voiced by Stallone), he must be an alpha male, someone who will not stand down in a conflict. Joe’s mate, Janet the Lioness (voiced by Cher), takes a different approach; Griffin must get Stephanie’s attention by being in the company of another female. Here enters Kate (Dawson), a vet who has been offered a zoo job in Nairobi. She and Griffin get along splendidly, but being the kind of movie this is, Griffin is required to not realize he’s after the wrong girl until the end of the movie.
Other animals, including a giraffe (voiced by Maya Rudolph), an elephant (voiced by Judd Apatow), and a frog (voiced by Don Rickles), all put in their two cents. A Capuchin monkey (voiced by Adam Sandler) so helpfully suggests that Griffin throw poop at Stephanie. The scary thing is not so much that the animals can talk, or even that they give Griffin advice. The real scary thing is that he sometimes takes it. Consider a conversation he has with two grizzly bears (voiced by Faizon Love and Jon Favreau), who tell him to strut around with his stomach pushed out and his arms waving high in the air, all while emitting a guttural growl. He does this just as a group of children pass by the bear exhibit. That he did it at all is nothing short of amazing. And then there’s a wolf’s suggestion that he mark his territory, which is clearly demonstrated; in the next scene, Griffin is at his brother’s party peeing on a potted plant in full view of the guests.
Intertwined with this is a ridiculous subplot involving a gorilla named Bernie (voiced by Nolte), who has been placed in a cement pit following an incident with a heartless loser (Donnie Wahlburg). Experience has taught Bernie to distrust humans – they lie and will always let you down. This had the potential to be compelling, but alas, it was ruined when Griffin decided to sneak Bernie out of the zoo and drive him to a TGI Friday’s. Their cover: Bernie will don a T-shirt and pass himself off as a man who just left a costume party. It apparently works. How else could Bernie end up on the dance floor with a real live woman? And with that, I think I’ve given you enough of an idea of just how monumentally Zookeeper fails. If this is what passes for family entertainment nowadays, God help us all.
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