Zookeeper is why we can’t have nice things

Monday July 18th 2011

The sole identifiable progression in Kevin James’s acting career seems to be that, with each successive starring role, we’re supposed to be less and less surprised that beautiful women find him attractive. In Hitch, his entire character was built around the fact that love interest Amber Valletta was way out of his league. It was reasonably endearing to see the big bumbling fat man smitten with the gorgeous blonde, and easy to read his eventual success as a triumph of inner beauty and ‘being yourself’ over mainstream society’s vacuous obsession with image. In Zookeeper he’s got Rosario Dawson AND Leslie Bibb chasing him, but now that Kevin James is officially above-the-title material it seems we’re expected to take his apparently boundless animal magnetism as a given.

Oh, and just to refresh your memory:

Look at him. He barely fits into that 173×180 pixel box.

Tasked with making this wild scenario seem even vaguely plausible is director extraordinaire Frank Coraci, of Click and Around the World in 80 Days fame. Amazingly he’s not part of the movie’s FIVE-MAN writing team but don’t worry because Jay Scherick and David Ronn, the creative team behind Norbit, are both involved.

The plot — if you can call a succession of increasingly laboured excuses for Kevin James to fall over ‘a plot’ — is as follows:

*quotes from press release*

‘The animals at the Franklin Park Zoo love their kindhearted caretaker Griffin Keyes. [I guess you can only call Kevin James ‘Larry’ or ‘Dave’ so many times…] Finding himself more comfortable with a lion than a lady [*vomits own lungs up*] Griffin decides the only way to get a girl in his life is to leave the zoo and find a more glamourous job [because apparently THAT’S what’s keeping him and Leslie Bibb apart]. The animals, in a panic, decide to break their time-honoured code of silence and reveal their biggest secret: they can talk! To keep Griffin from leaving, they decide to teach him the rules of courtship — animal style.’

So basically it’s the eighty-million-dollar-blockbuster equivalent of watching your ‘wacky’ friend do funny voices over a wildlife documentary. You want to tell him to stop but he just looks so pleased with himself. Of course, the whole concept that the zoo animals secretly have human-level intelligence makes it completely inexplicable that they’d choose to spend their days playing with tyres and licking themselves, but that’s a minor quibble in a movie that’s got much bigger systemic flaws to be getting on with.

For one thing, it just hasn’t got any jokes. There are ‘comedy situations’ I suppose, but all of them seem to end a few minutes short of the punchline, and when they do get there you’ve got a 75% chance that the punchline will somehow involve a meeting between Kevin James and the floor. Like Paul Blart: Mall Cop, there are a few genuinely clever bits of physical comedy, but they’re pretty hard to appreciate when they come sandwiched between yet more scatological jokes and arbitrary pop cultural references. Speaking of which, the product placement is completely out of control: there’s an entire scene in Zookeeper purely dedicated to demonstrating how fucking awesome TGI Friday’s is. It’s bad enough to warrant another of my ‘patented‘ redressings of the balance:

So for the overwhelming majority of its runtime, Zookeeper is every bit as boring to watch as it must have been to shoot. At times, it’s almost tempting to feel sorry for Kevin James as he interacts with yet more thin air while a badly composited bear hovers nearby. And then you remember that he co-wrote this shit.

It’s no surprise that the animals eventually take a backseat to the rom-com elements of the story, when Griffin finally realises that he’s obviously supposed to be with friendly, charming Rosario Dawson rather than selfish, greedy Leslie Bibb. And of course, Dawson’s gagging for it. She could certainly do worse…


So next time you feel like launching into a rant about the dominance of remakes, sequels and franchises in Hollywood today, stop for a second and remember what happens when people are allowed to follow through on their Original Concepts. This is what happens. KEVIN JAMES PISSING IN A FLOWER POT BECAUSE A WOLF TOLD HIM TO DO IT IS WHAT HAPPENS.

I hope you’re all pleased with yourselves.