Who's In It: Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb, Ken Jeong, Donnie Wahlberg, Joe Rogan, and the voices of: Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Maya Rudolph, Nick Nolte, Jud Apatow, Adam Sandler, Jon Favreau, Faizon Love
The Basics: Griffin (James) is a bumbling-but-sweet man whose love for his animals got in the way of his relationship with Stephanie (Bibb) five years ago. When he proposed, she brutally shut him down because he wasn't the man she had hoped he would become (meaning, rich and soulless). So, of course it only makes sense that when she comes back into his life he will do anything to get her back, including taking love advice from a lion version of Sylvester Stallone. Yes, you read that correctly--he learns that the animals in his zoo can talk sass and love TGI Fridays. But even with their help, will he ever become an alpha male?
What's The Deal: Darn you, Kevin James, for being so likable. Every time I go into a movie of yours, I know what I am in for--you are a soft, approachable, teddy bear of a man whose heart is in the right place. Some horrible girl was mean to you in the past (and I hate her for it). And once you get just the smallest iota of spring in your step somewhere around the second act, the smoking hot chick you see all the time finally realizes how perfect you are and despite some complications, eventually you live happily ever after. Zookeeper, at its core, is no different from Paul Blart Mall Cop or Hitch--it's just that this time, Adam Sandler lends his vocal stylings to help a monkey talk like Gilbert Gottfried.
This Just Confirms It: In the pitch meeting for this movie, someone said, "I know--let's make a movie where animals talk crazy talk," and then another guy snaps his fingers and responds, "Yep, and it's gonna take their help to get Kevin James some booty." Cha ching, sold, go buy a Lamborghini.
But Not A Total Waste Of Celluloid: There are some things that made the movie surprisingly fun to watch in spite of its confusing genre-straddling. Bears call genitalia the "pudding cup," Kevin James crushes an emu under his body weight, the monkey plays its leg like an electric guitar, and there is extraordinary prejudice from zoo animals towards interloping crows. Combined with off-the-wall dialogue, the movie had me laughing--I didn't even touch my nail file once, which is what I assumed I would do during this film.
Look Out Koko: Nick Nolte steals the show as Bernie the Gorilla. Not only is his gravelly voice perfectly suited for the cranky, mistrustful simian, but it lent him an unpredictability that apes actually have in real life. It didn't matter if Bernie was busy slow dancing with girls at TGI Fridays or getting into car accidents, I nearly clapped every time he was on screen. Let's see a buddy comedy with Kevin James and Bernie--forget the schmaltzy romance junk. Go witness a crime or mistake Bernie for the new Pope or something. It also didn't hurt that Bernie was animatronic. FINALLY, some puppetry in this vast expanse of computer-generated dreck. He delighted my eyes and warmed my heart in his cute little polo shirt.