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posted: 7/7/2011 11:00 AM

Predictable 'Zookeeper' embraces absurd premise

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  • In the romantic comedy "Zookeeper," a kindly zookeeper (Kevin James) gets dating advice from a gorilla, plus other animals under his care.

      In the romantic comedy "Zookeeper," a kindly zookeeper (Kevin James) gets dating advice from a gorilla, plus other animals under his care.

  • Video: "Zookeeper" trailer

 
 

Frank Coraci's comedy "Zookeeper" contains more clichés than animals.

Neither grouping is particularly wild.

Nonetheless, "Zookeeper" embraces the absurdity of its crazy premise and isn't afraid to venture into abject stupidity when the script calls for it.

It's hard to believe how far computerized talking animal movies have fallen since the classic "Babe" hit the silver screen.

Then, a cute talking piggy tried to find his life's purpose and a little self-actualization along the way.

In "Zookeeper," talking animals exist merely to bicker with each other while ladling out romantic advice to the responsible zookeeper who protects them and takes care of them.

He's Griffin Keyes, played by Kevin James as if mall cop Paul Blart suddenly decided to become Dr. Doolittle.

At the start of "Zookeeper," Griffin proposes to his very blonde and vacuous girlfriend Stephanie (Leslie Bibb), who flatly turns him down because he's a mere zookeeper, and she really thought he'd be doing something important with his life by now.

This isn't ruining any surprises. This opening scene, along with many of the major plot points and funniest jokes are in the TV commercials and theatrical trailers for "Zookeeper," so the only real fun surprise for most people will probably be the zany closing credits featuring zoo animals singing along with a pop song, a la cast members at the end of "There's Something About Mary."

Five years pass. Griffin is speaking at his brother's wedding when he spots Stephanie in the crowd and freaks out.

He still has a thing for her, and he can't figure out how to get her back.

The zoo animals who have silently loved Griffin for his dedication and service decide to help him out like nonhuman Cyrano de Bergeracs. Plus, they don't want him to leave, so they break their code of silence and actually speak to Griffin. In English.

Griffin's reaction is to scream. Twice.

Then he's apparently OK with taking advice from Joe the Lion (Sylvester Stallone) and his mate, Janet (Cher), Mollie the Giraffe (Maya Rudolph), Donald the Monkey (Adam Sandler), Bruce and Jerome the Bears (Faizon Love and Jon Favreau), Barry the Elephant (Judd Apatow), Sebastian the Wolf (Bas Rutten), the Frog (Don Rickles) and even the Crow (Jim Breuer).

Griffin's biggest challenge is reaching out to Bernie the Gorilla (Nick Nolte), who has seen the worst in humans -- sadistic staff member Shane (Donnie Wahlberg) -- and has emotionally shut down.

There are many ways this comedy could have gone, and Coraci, the director of badly made but popular Sandler vehicles "The Waterboy" and "Click," goes for broken.

The emotional connections between the characters, both humans and non, barely exist beyond superficial ties, and that robs the film of some memorable scenes in the final reels.

"Zookeeper" looks like a perfect children's film. But why is Griffin's co-worker Venom (Ken Jeong) an obvious sex pervert making weird overtures to Griffin and the zoo's sexy bird expert Kate (Rosario Dawson)? What's the fascination with urination as a running (pouring?) gag?

Nonetheless, with James heading the cast, "Zookeeper" is an easy comedy to like, clichés and all.

Besides, how many movies have you seen where a gorilla realizes his dream of eating at a T.G.I. Friday's restaurant.

Oops. That's in the movie trailer, too.

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