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‘Zookeeper’ is stellar slapstick Realistic animals garner attention in otherwise silly family comedy


ookeeper” is a goodnatured comedy about how the animals at the zoo coach Kevin James on his romantic life. Since he ends up with Rosario Dawson, they must know what they’re talking about. What it comes down to is a buddy movie where the best buddy is a gorilla. I confess to a sinking feeling when the first animal began to talk. I understand why animals talk in animated films, but in live-action films it usually just feels creepy. Studiously avoiding all contact with publicity for the movie, I naively expected a story about the profession of zookeeping — you know, some natural history, maybe some insights into animal psychology. What I got instead were animals that speak perfectly in a variety of accents, ranging from Bernie the Gorilla (Nick Nolte), Donald the Monkey (Adam Sandler), Joe the Lion (Sylvester Stallone) and Janet the Lioness (Cher) down the evolutionary scale to Don Rickles doing Frog, who doesn’t have a first name. Kevin James stars as the socially inept Griffin, a zookeeper who deeply cares for his animals and discovers they like him just as much. He’s sweet and goofy, and somehow once had the sexy Stephanie (Leslie Bibb) as his girlfriend. The story is, she broke up with him because of his low salary. But now it looks as if he’ll get a job at his brother’s luxury car dealership, and she’s interested again. Problem is, he’s paralyzed by shyness. The animals team up to advise

From previous page This leads them to an unsavory bar in search of a hit man, and they meet a man named Jones (Jamie Foxx). Even the initials of his nickname don’t belong in a family newspaper, qualifying as they do as a familiar adaptation of one of Carlin’s seven words.

The Associated Press

Kevin James, right, chats with his good friend Bernie the Gorilla (voiced by Nick Nolte) while at a restaurant in the comedy “Zookeeper.” him, suggesting such tactics as aggression (the lions), marking his territory (the wolves) and puffing out his throat (Frog). He takes them so seriously that he marks his territory at his brother’s rehearsal dinner by peeing in a potted plant. Meanwhile, right there in plain view and sharing his love of animals is his fellow zookeeper Kate (Rosario Dawson), who has never looked more ravishing. Why would he prefer the shallow Stephanie? Because the plot requires him to, of course.

That’s the law in a romcom: The guy falls in love with the topbilled woman, but not before skirting romantic disaster. It’s not the romcom that’s so entertaining, anyway; it’s the slapstick. Griffin busts up his brother’s wedding by swinging from long cloth strips that fortuitously hang from the ceiling, and later engages in a thrilling chase scene while assisted by Bernie the Gorilla. It is also funny when they go out to dinner together at T.G.I. Friday’s, which Bernie has long eyed from over

the top of the zoo walls. Look, a great movie this is not. Pleasant summer entertainment it is. I think it can play for all ages in a family audience, it’s clever to have the animals advising humans on their behavioral strategies, and besides, I’m getting a teensy bit exhausted by cute little animated animals. The creatures in this zoo all have the excellent taste to be in 2-D.

The movie, directed with cheerful and wicked energy by Seth Gordon, is situation slapstick, much of it set (as many desperate lad pictures are) outside the houses of the targets, as the plotters peep and spy. There’s a particularly ingenious series of scenes involving Kevin Spacey, one of

them finding a legitimate excuse to recycle perhaps the single most famous shot of “Pulp Fiction.” Spacey is superb, but the surprise for many viewers may be Jennifer Aniston. Her career has drifted into such shallows that it’s possible to forget how good she was in a movie like “The Good

Girl” (1999). Here she has acute comic timing and hilariously enacts alarming sexual hungers. The default rating for comedies these days is PG-13. A plain PG warns teenagers a movie is too tame, and an R (allegedly) means they can’t get in. Every season brings a couple of R-rated comic

Roger Ebert is a film critic for The Chicago Sun-Times.


“Zookeeper” 104 minutes PG, for some rude and suggestive humor and language

raunch-a-ramas, however, and on the heels of the “Hangover” franchise here perhaps comes another one. In strict logic it’s hard to see how a sequel would be possible, but they’ll find a way. Roger Ebert is a film critic for The Chicago Sun-Times.

Bulletin Daily Paper 07/08/11  

The Bulletin Daily print edition for Friday July 8, 2011