I have to imagine Kevin James is a likable fellow. He strikes me as the type of person who, if approached on the street, wouldn’t mind chatting with fans, signing autographs and taking a few pictures. However, that affableness doesn’t make up for the fact that he’s made us sit through some of the trashiest, most foul, unwatchable pieces of garbage to come out in recent years. While he may be a nice guy in real life, he has never impressed in his films, which are almost always heavy-laden with physical comedy, an area where his abilities rest somewhere between slight and non-existent. He’s the type of comedian we’re supposed to laugh at simply because of his large visage, but laughing at someone’s weight is comedy of the shallowest order. James has starred in such abominations as Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Grown Ups and The Dilemma, but, if it can be believed, his newest film, Zookeeper, is his worst yet.
James plays Griffin, a zookeeper who is beloved by his animals. Five years prior, he popped the question to then-girlfriend, Stephanie, played by Leslie Bibb, but she shot him down because she was embarrassed by his occupation. Now, she has returned and Griffin once again finds himself falling for her. After overhearing a conversation one night, the animals learn that Griffin may be leaving the zoo. They’re none too happy with this news—besides, he’s the best zookeeper they’ve ever had—so they divulge their secret to him: they can talk. In an attempt to keep him around, they teach him mating techniques so he can snag the girl of his dreams without having to give up his job.
It would be easy to say that Zookeeper is absurd. Any movie with talking animals is, but as a colleague of mine pointed out, it’s weirder than usual and it gets weirder as it goes on. It’s strange enough watching James walk like a bear and learn to attract his mate with urine, but when the gorilla ends up at T.G.I. Friday’s, buys drinks for some cute ladies and ends up courting one of them, the film has clearly gone overboard. If anything can be said for it, Zookeeper doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is.
The problem is that what it is is a movie so desperate for laughs, it quickly resorts to tired slapstick and gross-out humor. In the first ten minutes alone, you’ll see Griffin fall over at least three times, break a tree limb that can’t carry his weight, get shot twice with porcupine quills and get splashed in the face with a lioness’s saliva. I suppose I should be grateful nobody gets covered in feces, especially given the nature of these types of films, but not throwing crap on someone comes off as faint praise for a movie with metaphorical smears all over it.
Zookeeper is juvenile, inane and utterly devoid of anything even remotely interesting, sure, but it’s surprisingly offensive as well, with traces of mild sexism and veiled homophobia throughout. While certainly minute in the big scheme of things, their diminutive nature makes them no less distasteful. For an entire scene, we watch as Griffin insults Stephanie and orders her to do things for him, playing up verbal abuse towards women as funny. Though not funny in any context, it’s especially shocking here given its PG rating and marketing towards children.
The only person treated with respect in the film is the zoo vet, played by Rosario Dawson, but even she is trapped in the archetypal “plain before pretty” role that has been outdated since Freddie Prinze Jr. fell for Rachael Leigh Cook in 1999’s She’s All That. It’s a shame because the filmmakers have gathered a great supporting voice cast that includes Nick Nolte, Adam Sandler, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Judd Apatow, Jon Favreau, Maya Rudolph and Don Rickles, yet they are all squandered here, forced to recite insipid lines of dialogue about having thumbs and throwing poo. Frankly, it’s an embarrassing farce. Zookeeper is torturous, and that’s enough to make it one of the most unwatchable movies to be released this year.
Zookeeper receives 0.5/5