Dave Rice 4:30 p.m., Sept. 19
Look, I’m not going to complain that a monkey suggests flirting-by-flinging-feces in Zookeeper. Actually, given the quasi-creepy sexual vibe that the film is willing to throw off here and there – hot babe slow-dancing with gorilla, zookeeper making fellow zookeeper search both his pockets for car keys – I suppose I should just be grateful there were no monkey masturbation jokes. This is, after all, a story about a guy (Kevin James, the blandest husky film star in memory) who takes mating – er, dating – advice from the zoo animals under his care. And the monkey is voiced by Adam Sandler. So kudos on the restraint there.
What I will complain about is the way the movie loses its comedic nerve and cheats on its own premise. Sebastian the Wolf counsels peeing to mark one’s territory – entirely appropriate, if still monumentally stupid advice for a human to take. Meanwhile, Jerome the Bear stresses the importance of showing confidence by posturing and roaring. Ah, now we’re getting somewhere.
But then we get Joe and Janet – Mr. and Mrs. Lion. Her advice? Attract a female by being seen with another female. Because that’s how lions roll, y’all. Um, no it isn’t. Lions don’t do feminine jealousy. The male chooses, and “the choice pretty much means whichever presenting estrous female they run into first.” But you know what species does do the jealousy game? Humans.
It’s even worse with Joe. I don’t care that he was raised in captivity. The advice he gives – the advice that finally proves useful to our hapless hero – is so monumentally human, so completely foreign to the fantastic and variform world of animal mating rituals, that the whole walk-like-the-animals gimmick becomes completely beside the point. Hell, the advice doesn’t even fit with the character of Joe the Lion, a blusterer who is actually a shy little sweetheart. Rather, it’s the kind of asinine counsel a lovable loser might get in a bar from his friend the smooth operator. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
That’s the important cheat. Less important infidelities: a girl who wants a man who can roll at fashion shows and appreciate ultra-modern furniture doesn’t look at a schlub in a zoo uniform and decide he’s got potential. Nor does she deserve any kind of dramatic comeuppance when the schlub decides he would rather be a schlub. And I may not be smarter than an ape, but both my son and I were deeply confused by Bernie the Gorilla’s supposed-to-be-telling accusation that all humans lie. SPOILER ALERT: Kevin James does not lie to Bernie.*
Now, now, Matthew – let’s not push things too hard. This is a movie starring a bunch of talking animals! Enjoy the show! I tried. Really I did. But those talking animals? With the possible exception of the monkey, they reminded me of cardboard cutouts outfitted with moving mouth parts. Their speech bore no relation to the rest of them, and the effect was to make things feel curiously static and inert. Much like the rest of the film, the lesson of which is: be yourself. (No change required!)
On the plus side, Nick Nolte was an inspired choice for the voice of Bernie.
Black spot (despite the occasional chuckle).
*A Big Screen shout-out no-prize to anyone who can inform me otherwise.
More like this:
- Oh, dear, Megan, Part 3 — June 28, 2011
- A Closer Look at the Trailer for Zookeeper, Part 2 — June 22, 2011
- A Closer Look at the Trailer for Zookeeper, Part 1 — June 22, 2011
- Dept. of Cinematic Muses — June 22, 2011
- A Tender Moment — June 16, 2011