By MARK TURNER
So once in a while you have to sit back and pop in a movie you think is safe for the kids ... when suddenly you find yourself laughing and enjoying the movie more than they are. They're at that age when it's just not cool to laugh at something your parents like as well so they stifle their guffaws as much as possible while you smile and laugh out loud.
Too bad because they miss out on some fun movies that way. Movies like ZOOKEEPER.
The movie opens with Kevin James as Griffin proposing on a sandy beach at sunset while riding a horse to the woman he loves, Stephanie (Leslie Bibb). Unfortunately unlike most youtube videos, she turns him down explaining how she thought he'd change and leave behind life working in a zoo. She wants someone more upwardly mobile.
Fast forward a few years and Griffin is still working in the Franklin Park Zoo. He loves his work and he loves the animals he cares for. While taking care of them all, he pays particular attention to Bernie the gorilla. Bernie has kind of sequestered himself from contact with anyone who comes his way including Griffin who tries his best to cheer him up.
Griffin's brother is about to get married and they hold the engagement party at the zoo thanks to Griffin. But as he begins to make a speech about the new couple he notices Stephanie in the background and stumbles on every word out of his mouth. It turns up that Stephanie is back in town and was invited by the bride. Could she and Griffin reunite? As the animals listen in to their conversation it appears a possibility.
That night the animals call a meeting and discuss how to make Griffin more attractive to Stephanie and reunite the pair. If not one of the overheard discussions was Griffin talking about leaving and they want him to stay. Somehow they have to unite the pair and at the same time not let Griffin know they can speak. But of course things go wrong and the main animal, Joe the lion (Sylvester Stallone) lets lose scaring Griffin.
The animals come together and let Griffin know they can talk now and do their best to school him on how to get Stephanie back. The problem is while their intentions are good the ideas they offer him work more in the animal kingdom than in the land of humans.
While all this is going on Griffin helps one of the zoo doctors, Kate (Rosario Dawson). They pair work well together, especially in the case of helping save Janet the lioness (voice of Cher). It was due to Griffin's saving her from choking to death that the animals decided to help.
Taking the advice of the animals Griffin does his best to win Stephanie back. But this time around he not only has to convince her he can be the man she longs for but he must also compete with a Neanderthal of a new boyfriend Gale (Joe Rogan). In an attempt to face off against this jerk, Griffin has Kate go with him to the wedding in an attempt to make Stephanie jealous. But something else begins to happen.
The film offers a back and forth from the world of Griffin's romance to his love of the animals he cares for. Can he leave behind all that he holds dear in an attempt at love with a woman who wants him to be something else? And what about Kate, is something going on there?
The answer is simple if you ever seen a romantic comedy made since say 1925. It's also a staple of the romantic comedy that the main protagonist not realize who he really loves or what he wants to do until the last moments of the film. But knowing this is what will happen or not doesn't matter, it's the journey to that moment that makes this movie such fun.
A huge cast of big names offer voice talent here along with the others mentioned. Adam Sandler plays a monkey Judd Apatow an elephant, Donald Faizon and Jon Favreau a pair of bears and more. All of them have some hilarious lines and moments that are a joy to watch, especially Nick Nolte as Bernie the gorilla. The scenes this character shares with James are a hoot, especially a trip in the outside world to TGIFridays. If you go there you'll be looking for an ape next time.
The movie is fairly predictable but it doesn't matter. It has plenty of laughs, a touching story and holds your interest throughout. James does a great job doing plenty of physical comedy and adds a nice touch to the romantic side he offers, especially not appearing as the normal hunk of the month. All in all this movie offers a good time at any price and is actually one worth adding to your collection. Check it out.
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