Zookeeper

What It Is

Griffin (Kevin James) wants to marry Stephanie (Leslie Bibb). At the start of Zookeeper, he takes her for a horseback ride on a twilit beach, gets down on one knee with a ring, and arranges for fireworks in heart-shapes — and then she says no. For some reason, he hasn’t noticed that she wants to marry a rich man, not a zookeeper.

He takes the news badly. Even five years later, he’s still not over her. And so the animals under his care decide to teach him how to be a better suitor. It helps that they talk, of course, as they can to only act out but also narrate all their beastly mating tricks: Joe the lion (voiced by Sylvester Stallone) tells him to bully a rival, the bears Jerome (Jon Favreau) and Bruce (Faizon Love) think he should wave his paws and roar, and Sebastian the wolf (Bas Rutten) trains him to pee on his territory. The only advice Griffin does not take is offered by the monkey (producer Adam Sandler): “Throw poop at her.”

As you can imagine, each of these instructions leads to a mighty embarrassment for Griffin in the human world. Strangely, when he takes Bernie the gorilla (voiced by Nick Nolte and acted by two other guys) out for a night at T.G.I. Fridays, no one blinks: told that Bernie’s a man in a gorilla suit, waitresses and patrons are only impressed that his suit is so “realistic.”

Griffin also learns lessons from humans, including his brother Dave (Nat Faxon) and especially his coworker at the zoo, Kate (Rosario Dawson). While he learns a lesson in what not to do from his dishonest car dealer Dave, he finds a positive model in Kate, who is committed to her work as a vet at the zoo, fond of her patients, and generous with her colleagues and friends.

Why It’s Fun

Rosario Dawson. Amid the film’s plotty clutter and terrible logic, she is a singular beam of sunshine. Not only is her performance as Kate refreshingly low-key (especially compared to her more frantic fellows, like the buffoonish Ken Jeong as a snake expert named “Venom” or the snarly Donnie Wahlberg as the resident villain, a zookeeper who abuses Bernie). When Kate extols Griffin’s skills as a zookeeper — “You’re like the frickin’ hippo whisperer!” — you’re almost inclined to believe her, though he shows no sign of such skills.

For scant minutes, Bernie the gorilla is at least sympathetic, when you find out he’s stuck in a windowless cage because of an event 10 years back (an event for which he was not even responsible). Weary and disappointed, he’s not easily won over by Griffin’s antic efforts to engage him — a new tire swing or a ball on a rope. But as ape and man bond over their disappointments, they become something like a parody of buddies in a buddy movie, and their loyalty to one another is, for a few moments anyway, rather sweet.

Who’s Going To Love It

It may be that Kevin James fans will want to see him in another movie, not unlike Mall Cop. But this one lacks even the middling charms of Night at the Museum or Dr. Dolittle, both obvious precursors.

Worse, it features no kids! This means that except for children who feel attached to the admittedly childish Griffin, there’s little to keep young viewers’ interest.

What To Be Aware Of

As you might imagine, the animals — especially the monkey — refer to poop more than once.

Some phrases refer to sexual or other physical activities, including bears telling Griffin to show off his “pudding cup” and the wolf proclaiming, when he’s caught licking himself, that, “I certainly was not cleaning my basement.”

The gag where Griffin learns to pee on trees in order to mark his territory is less funny and yuckier than it might have seemed during filming.

Some drinking at a couple of parties, including Dave’s wedding reception.

More drinking during a montage at T.G.I. Fridays, where Bernie and Griffin get rowdy (and flirt with ladies in tight tops who show a bit of cleavage).

Some slapstick is a little rough, as when Griffin slams into a wall in the lion’s den or falls off an ostrich. Or, when Griffin and his rival for Stephanie’s interest — the wholly loathsome Gale, played by Fear Factor host Joe Rogan — ride and slam their bikes through city traffic. The men compete, fall down, and yell at each other.

See-It-Again Points

1 out of 10

Film Information

Zookeeper
Director: Frank Coraci
Cast: Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb, Donnie Wahlberg, Joe Rogan, Nick Nolte, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Judd Apatow, Ken Jeong
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Year: 2011
Rated: PG
US Premiere: July 8, 2011
Official Website
Official Trailer
Movie Pictures

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