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Zookeeper

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Zookeeper

Director: Frank Coraci
Runtime: 104 minutes
Rating: PG
Cast: Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb

Zookeeper, an Adam Sandler-produced comedy starring Kevin James, takes place in a world where animals, unbeknownst to the humans around them, can talk. But that isn’t the extent of its alternate-universe qualities. It’s also a world where the profession of zookeeping is regarded with roughly the same respect extended to telemarketers or drug dealers. James plays the titular zookeeper, a kindly, spineless fellow who’s told by both his successful brother (Nat Faxon) and his materialistic ex-girlfriend (Leslie Bibb) that he could be so much more if he’d just let this zookeeping nonsense go, and take a job at Faxon’s luxury-car dealership. Lonely beneath his cheerful exterior, James is on the verge of giving up on his zookeeping dream job, when the animals unexpectedly start giving him advice on how to win Bibb back in order to keep him happy and keep him in the zookeeping fold.

From this point on, there are two ways to look at Zookeeper: One is as a kiddie comedy in which James takes counsel from a variety of cute animals with CGI-assisted facial expressions and the voices of Sylvester Stallone, Cher, and Sandler. (Plus there’s one unconvincing fake gorilla voiced by Nick Nolte.) The other is as a depiction of one man’s descent into madness. And while the former interpretation may be how director Frank Coraci and the collective of credited screenwriters intended the movie to be seen, the other reading is no less plausible. In one scene, James listens to a wolf tell him to mark his territory with urine. Moments later, he’s peeing in a fancy restaurant’s potted plant. Perhaps he decided that in a world in which wolves give advice to humans, none of the usual rules apply.

As a study in insanity, Zookeeper is mildly interesting. But as a kiddie comedy, it’s something to watch only once the little ones have worn out their Dr. Doolittle DVD—maybe even their Dr. Doolittle 2 DVD, for that matter. James makes for a bland lead, and his furry co-stars aren’t much more compelling. Nobody expects much nuance from talking animals, but some of the performances here—Sandler’s capuchin and Maya Rudolph’s giraffe serving as exhibits A and B—illustrate why voiceover work is sometimes best left to voiceover artists. Rosario Dawson is on hand as the theoretically unglamorous overlooked dream girl right under James’ nose. And because it’s a comedy released after 2007, Ken Jeong has a small role. It is the first film, however, in which he costars with a sass-talking crow voiced by Jim Breuer.