Review- Zookeeper

Kevin James in Zookeeper (Columbia Pictures)

Upon hearing about the film Zookeeper one would think and hope that there’s got to be more to it than just talking animals. The good news is that there is. The bad news is that there really isn’t that much more to it. Sadly, the film aside from not being that funny gets bogged down in a transparent and overly predictable love plot that makes the entire thing seem like an exercise rather than an attempt to create.

While the film starts well enough with a humorous and slightly heartbreaking inciting incident of a failed proposal attempt there comes a point where all the cards are laid out on the table and you start to see where it’s heading. Now I harp on this because this isn’t your usual amount of predictability, I’m talking about an experience wherein you can predict how and when all the dominoes of the story will fall with a great amount of accuracy, this lack of the unexpected leads to a lack of joy and a lack of real comedic impact despite the occasional half-hearted chuckle.

When there is a twist, and I use that term lightly here, it’s like a breath of fresh air and what you’re witnessing becomes exponentially more enjoyable than it should be. When you combine two old hat concepts like talking animals and chasing after a dream girl that doesn’t make the story different or unique by default there needs to be a bit more to it than that but the film never quite gets there.

Typically, with material of this ilk the performances can raise it to a level where it ought not be able to reach but that sadly doesn’t happen here. Rosario Dawson, who let me state for the record is a great actress, can’t really elevate the film at all. A majority of the laughs that this film can muster are thanks to Joe Rogan, as our lead’s rival for the affections of his beloved. He is a crazy, over-the-top type of character but at least he’s well-defined and there’s an energy to his scenes. Kevin James’ scenes with him are the best he has really, as a romantic lead and a no-nonsense-business-man he connects less and isn’t as convincing.

The casting of the voices was a bit odd. Cher and Sylvester Stallone are always very obviously themselves and never really become their characters or invisible as I like to call it in voice work. Adam Sandler does well by seemingly impersonating Gilbert Gottfried as the monkey but of course Nick Nolte is the stand out of the voice cast not because he has the most versatile voice but because he’s the strongest actor of the bunch by far.

Of course, in comedies it all comes down to “How funny is it?” If it can hold water as a compelling narrative it can almost be looked at as a bonus. Clearly as a story the film has its failings but it’s really not terribly funny either. It’s the kind of movie that you might see on cable (a lot) and if you had nothing better to do you’d still likely change the channel.

The ultimate failing of this film is that it tried to get a little too cute by creating an excessive amount of symmetry in the story. This symmetry makes the design of the film apparent and instead of being engaged the film just hits you and you just take it. Sadly, there are very few redeeming qualities about this one.

3/10

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Review- Paul

Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in Paul (Universal)

The first thing that needs saying about Paul is that it’s the first comedy I’ve seen in a while that struck me as one that will likely get better upon being re-viewed. However, unlike Pegg and Frost’s previous films, those which were pairings with Edgar Wright this film is more homage than homage/parody. There isn’t really that delightful and subtle transition that occurred in the initial installments of the Blood & Ice Cream Trilogy to elevate this one but it does not stop this film from being very funny indeed.

The lack of subtlety translates a bit to the humor of this film as well. Not that it ever really hits a discordant note comedically but it doesn’t have the well-hidden jokes or the built-in verve that the earlier films do. What it does have is a tremendous spirit and a genuine love for all things in the overarching genre that can best be called Fanboy. Whether it sci-fi, comics or anything else you can find at Comic Con this film loves it an embraces it.

It’s that spirit that really propels the film. There are a few things that become a bit too present like the mysterious boss, who is seeking to capture the alien (the eponymous Paul voiced by Seth Rogen), which is just an overly elaborate set-up to a short-lived cameo by Sigourney Weaver which has already been spoiled by the marketing department- see it does factor in sometimes.

Then there are the dueling chasers: the underling Agent Zoil (played by Jason Bateman, and yes there’s a great joke made about the name) and his subordinates Haggard and O’Reilly (Bill Hader and Joe Lo Trugio) who are kept in the dark to an extent about what this chase it really about. As if that subplot wasn’t enough the chase becomes even more cluttered adding Moses Buggs (John Carroll Lynch) whose daughter Ruth (Kristen Wiig) ran off with them, to the mix.

That is not to say that these things don’t fit, aren’t funny and don’t add something to the mix but they remain a bit separate and don’t represent a realistic threat until very late so most of the time it’s additional comedy added and more time allotted than is maybe needed. These elements aren’t folded in as neatly as they could be.

In this day and age when any animated character that exists is automatically endangered when there isn’t a name attached to play the role the concept of invisibility is very important, which if you haven’t read an animated review of mine before means the ability of the actor to blend into the film and become his character such that we don’t think of his face when we hear his voice. This was a huge hurdle for Despicable Me that was eventually cleared and in this film it was one of its greater struggles. Rogen’s voice is not only very distinctive but also rather inflexible such that until the character builds sufficiently it’s hard to not think of him.

The CG does help pull it through, however, as always it seems to be the case that when there is only one major project that the animators need to deal there seems to be greater attention to detail paid. Paul looks quite real some of the time and perhaps more importantly blends in with his surroundings very well.

The cast overall does an outstanding job. In the end Rogen does manage to make Paul rather an endearing if different extra-terrestrial than those we’ve come to know. Nick Frost and Simon Pegg show that they are the world’s premiere comedic duo at the moment and show no signs of slowing down. Kristen Wiig adds just the right amount of zaniness to the mix and be prepared to be surprised but an important, moving and hilarious supporting turn by Blythe Danner.

What is always very apparent with films that involve Pegg and Frost as both writers and performers is that you know their material comes from a place of genuine affection despite the spoofing and jokes. As a film fan it will remind you some of your very favorite films but also tell a tale of its own which is very worthy of your time.

8/10