The animals in Zookeeper have the ability to talk to humans. This is a skill they have secretly harboured for years because humans can't handle such a seismic revelation, but after daring to spark up a conversation with zookeeper Griffin Keyes (Kevin James) what do they do with their amazing gift for interspecies communication? They try to order pizza over the phone, they persuade Griffin to take them to dinner at a TGI Fridays restaurant, and above all, they focus their attentions on helping Griffin rekindle his relationship with materialistic bitch Stephanie (Leslie Bibb). Aren't there more pressing and interesting things the animals could be doing with their time? If there are, Zookeeper certainly isn't interested in them.
For Zookeeper is only interested in following the predictable template of the Kevin James vehicle. Yes, Mr James now appears to be a bona-fide movie star (although how and when this was allowed to happen, I'm not sure) and therefore we have to watch him carry a movie, which means we have to watch him fall over a lot. In Zookeeper, James gets hit by a tyre swing and falls over, he attempts some acrobatics at a wedding and falls over, he runs into a signpost and falls over. As an actor, James is a bland, unimaginative presence, who only appears animated during his many pratfalls. Despite his lack of any discernible personality and propensity for bungling, Griffin ends up having the pick of two women; the aforementioned Stephanie, who will only be with him if he gives up his career, and his co-worker Kate (Rosario Dawson), whom everyone knows he will ultimately end up with. Before Griffin settles on the right girl, however, we have to sit through an unspeakably tedious farce in which the animals give him various tips on how to secure a mate.
An idle thought crossed my mind as I watched Zookeeper – this is the second film I've watched in which Kevin James gets caught pissing outdoors by a group of women. Is this some weird fetish James has managed to smuggle into both his new film and Grown Ups? I'd like to think so, just because I was desperate for any hint of subversion in this dismally idiotic fare. All of the animals are voiced by celebrities, but to grating effect; Sylvester Stallone and Cher play a bickering lion couple, Adam Sandler is a monkey and Maya Rudolph is an extraordinarily annoying presence as a sassy giraffe. The star turn among the animal voices is Nick Nolte as a gruff, lonely gorilla who strikes up a friendship with Griffin. Imagining that Nick Nolte is really sweltering inside that cheap gorilla suit (and therefore doing something to earn his fee) rather than simply providing his voice is a thought that's a whole lot funnier than any of the 'comedy' Zookeeper serves up.
It's a bad sign when an audience is imagining things more entertaining than the film they're watching. Zookeeper has no wit, intelligence or invention, but perhaps the most dispiriting aspect of the whole picture is the presence of Rosario Dawson in this worthless endeavour. She plays a sweet, unassuming zookeeper who is offered a position at a sanctuary in Nairobi, which necessitates the predictable last-minute dash to the airport by Griffin, but aside from her general 'niceness' she has been given no personality traits whatsoever. Has the paucity of decent roles for women in Hollywood reached such endemic proportions that a genuinely talented, charismatic actress like Dawson is reduced to playing barely-there love interest to Kevin James? The imbalance between this romantic pair is so laughable that there can be no satisfaction seeing her end up with such a buffoonish jackass. "Why didn't she go to Nairobi?" a confused little girl sitting near me at the screening asked as the credits roll. There is no answer that makes sense.