Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Frank Coraci

Stars: Kevin James, Leslie Bibb, Joe Rogan, Rosario Dawson, voices of Cher, Sylvester Stallone, Jon Favreau, Faizon Love, Maya Rudolph, Adam Sandler, Nick Nolte, Don Rickles.

Kevin James is one of the least funny men in movies, and has graced some of the lamest comedies of the past decade (I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry, etc). But thanks to friends like Adam Sandler he keeps getting work. But his latest effort is easily his least impressive film to date. Zookeeper is a shrill, dull, and laugh free romantic comedy, and is little short of a vanity project for the uncharismatic James.

The beefy comic plays Griffin Keyes, the titular zookeeper at the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston. While friendly and sympathetic towards the animals at the zoo he seems socially inept and lacks the ability to relate to women. At a reception for his brother’s engagement he reconnects with Stephanie (Leslie Bibb) the superficial former fiancee who dumped him years earlier. She felt that his menial job as zookeeper was beneath him, and urged him to work for his brother’s luxury car dealership Griffin has mixed feelings about his failed relationship. Griffin’s rival for Stephanie’s affection is the grotesque and narcissistic Gale (played by Fear Factor host Joe Rogan).

What Griffin fails to recognise though is that he has more in common with beautiful fellow zoo veterinarian Kate (Rosario Dawson) than the materialistic Stephanie. It takes a long while for him to figure this out. He gains unexpected help from the various zoo creatures who break their code of silence to offer him advice on how to become an alpha-male and win her back.

This Dr Dolittle-like vibe had some potential for memorable comedy, but unfortunately it fails to materialise. The zoo and its talking creatures is also reminiscent of Madagascar, but that animated film had far more charm and winning humour than this tired affair. Meanwhile, this lame comedy lurches from one uncomfortable incident to the next, failing to raise as much as a chuckle in the process.

The dire script has been written by no less than five writers, including James himself. Nick Bakay and Rock Reuben, have written extensively for his tv sitcom The King Of Queens as well as James’ Paul Blart: Mall Cop, while Jay Scherick and David Ronn, whose previous films include the dreadful Norbit (with Eddie Murphy) and National Security (with Martin Lawrence).

However, the film makes good use of James’ propensity for slapstick humour and physical humour. Unfortunately, director Frank Coraci, another of Sandler’s frequent collaborator, whose credits include Click, etc, handles the material in laboured and workmanlike fashion.

A strong vocal cast has been assembled to provide the voices for the animals – Cher and Sylvester Stallone play an arguing lion and lioness, Jon Favreau and Faizon Love play a couple of squabbling bears, Maya Rudolph is a singing giraffe, and Sandler himself voices Donald, the cheeky monkey. Nick Nolte provides the voice for Bernie the abused and mistreated gorilla with an obsession for T.G.I. Friday’s, with whom Griffin develops a bromance that, strangely enough, provides the film with its emotional core. And veteran comic Don Rickles provides the voice for a frog. But even the CGI special effects used to make the animals speak seem second rate.

Zookeeper is the latest in a depressingly long string of crappy dumb comedies from Adam Sandler. But despite the critical pasting his films take, they still seem popular at the box office.




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