Thursday, July 21, 2011


Incongruity is the basis for the best comedy. Consider any clown. A clown has big ears, an enormous nose, voluminous pants, and elongated feet. Clowns exaggerate their physical appearance for laughs. Not only may the star in a comedy be a clown with outlandish features, like either Buster Keaton or Charles Chaplin, but the narrative in a comedy may also provide an element of incongruity. For example, the fish-out-of-water comedy contains characters struggling to fit into the puzzle of an unknown environment. They may be working at a new job. They may have to deal with unfamiliar people. These new friends may use another language and cherish strange customs with which our hero lacks familiarity. Consequently, the hero ends up behaving like a buffoon because he is out-of-place.

"Waterboy" director Frank Coraci's new featherweight comic misfire "Zookeeper" (** out of ****) relies on incongruity for its few funniest moments. More often than not, the slapstick takes a backseat to a saga which swirls bromance with romance. When he isn't bonding with a depressed male gorilla, Kevin James cavorts with two attractive heart-breakers: Rosario Dawson and Lesley Bibb. One gal is right for him, but the other is dead wrong. The trouble is that our hero wouldn't recognize the right woman even if he were looking her in the face so he becomes infatuated with the wrong one. Imagine what would happen if you combined "Night at the Museum" with "Dr. Doolittle" and you'll have a good idea what to expect from "Zookeeper." The big surprise—the only surprise--is that the animals break their vow of silence and speak their piece when our hero thinks about quitting his zoo job. Several major stars, including Adam Sandler, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Jon Favreau, Nick Nolte, and Faizon Love, furnish the voices for these real-life animals.

Unfortunately, these animals generate little charisma, and they aren't very interesting as characters. They constitute stereotypes on parade with nothing to distinguish them aside from the celebrity's voice-over. Nevertheless, they do provide a support group for our loser hero so he can discover his one true love. Remember incongruity? A comedy with animals advising a human how to conduct a romantic relationship encapsulates incongruity. Some of those comedic incongruities and our hero's idiocy may make you question the film's PG rating. Otherwise, "Zookeeper" qualifies as an affable but anemic Kevin James comedy about one of his typical nice-guy protagonists who finds himself romantically challenged at the game of love. Neither the former "King of Queens" TV star nor his female co-stars conjure up any chemistry. As one of the producers, James makes moments for his own brand of dumb physical slapstick shenanigans. No, "Zookeeper" isn't nearly as hilarious as "Paul Blart, Mall Cop." You can count the laughs on one hand and have fingers left over, unless you are between ages five and eight.

Our sympathetic hero works at Boston's Franklin Park Zoo. The animals adore him. He adores the animals. Trouble is that our big lug of a hero has become infatuated with a gorgeous gal who works as a fashion model. Stephanie (Leslie Bibb of "Law Abiding Citizen") likes Griffin Constantine Keyes (Kevin James of "Grown-Ups"), but the shallow supermodel doesn't love the big lug. The apple of our hero's eye is seeking status conferral for the sake of status conferral. "Zookeeper" opens promisingly as Griffin and Stephanie are riding together on one horse along a deserted stretch of beach. When they spot a bottle in the sand, they dismount to check it out. Stephanie removes the note which turns out to be Griffin's proposal, and he presents her with a ring. Stephanie turns Griffin down because he is a lowly zookeeper. As the two are riding away, a Mariachi band appears and serenades them. Moments later, fireworks erupt and scintillate the sky. Griffin feels like an idiot, and Stephanie is just plain embarrassed.

Five years elapse, and Griffin's brother is about to tie the knot with his own marriage when Stephanie appears and shows an interest in Griffin. When Griffin considers quitting his job at the zoo to sell cars for his brother, the animals speak out and coach him in the art of seduction. The loquacious capuchin monkey voiced by Adam Sandler suggests that our hero throw his poop at his favorite girl. The lion voiced by Sylvester Stallone recommends that he cut his girl out of the herd. stresses the importance of urinating as a part of the courtship. You can see where this is going. Eventually, the animals suggest that he take a date of his own to intrigue Stephanie. Who could be more ideal as a date than his co-worker, Kate (Rosario Dawson of "Kids"), goes out with him and it doesn't take long for our hero to realize that he has been chasing the wrong lady. Moreover, despite the hike in pay, Griffin realizes that he cannot change himself, especially what he likes doing at the zoo.

The filmmakers do an adequate job of making the animals look as realistic as possible even when they are conversing with each other. Of course, nobody but Griffin knows that this menagerie can squawk and squabble. The animal that comes closest to making an impression is a brooding gorilla (voiced by Nick Nolte) named Bernie who has been unjustly framed for attacking another zookeeper. Shane (Donnie Wahlberg of "Saw 2") made up the incident with malice aforethought. As a result, Bernie has been ostracized to a pit and doesn't enjoy the view that he had in his previous enclosure. Eventually, Griffin takes Shane to task for this perfidy. What should have been the best scene occurs when Griffin takes Bernie to T.G.I. Friday's Restaurant. He convinces Bernie to act like they have attended a costume party. Nothing really hilarious happens. Later, James's best moment comes when he upstages Stephanie and her abrasive boyfriend (Joe Rogan of "The Fear Factor") at the wedding with an airborne dance number with Rosario Dawson that suddenly takes a turn for the worst.

Altogether, "Zookeeper" is no keeper.

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