Plot: Griffin (Kevin James) works as a zookeeper and loves his job, as he can interact with the animals and help the visitors learn about how cool the animals are, so it is a dream job for him, to say the least. His personal life isn’t as successful, thanks in large part to a horrific breakup a few years back, when his dream girl refused his proposal and dumped him on the spot. The rejection has haunted him ever since and he’s been unable to move on, but when his ex shows back up his life, he prepares to make a run at getting her back. As the animals watch him practice lines, they realize he is hopeless and as they love him, they decide to help. The code of the animals is broken and they talk to Griffin, which scares him at first, but he soon starts to follow their advice, except for the monkey’s fecal tossing suggestion. But can Griffin ever win back his ex or will the animals steer him into another disastrous failure?
Entertainment Value: If you’ve dreamed about a movie that unites Kevin James with Nick Nolte, the latter of which voices a gorilla, then Zookeeper is the movie you have been waiting for. This is an absurd take on Dr. Dolittle that reflects the usual kind of humor found in Happy Madison productions, which is going to delight some and confuse others. The narrative blends the Dr. Dolittle elements into a romantic comedy framework and goes for an over the top, absurd style or humor. Not the kind of movie that offers much substance or comes off as overly memorable but some of the lines are so odd, you might quote it here and there. I think some of the material works, even if it isn’t hilarious and the movie throws so many jokes out, some are bound to make you laugh. If nothing else, the cast of talent assembled and go for broke writing style is likely to get some chuckles just from how outlandish the whole movie is. I feel like Zookeeper falls in the usual Happy Madison line, those who love Adam Sandler’s crew will have fun, while those who don’t will want to shut it off. Not the worst of the crew’s efforts, but the more you love Sandler’s style, the more you’ll love Zookeeper.
While Zookeeper is an ensemble piece, Kevin James is in the central role and is good fit, given the light, comedic material. James isn’t asked to do much outside his comfort zone, so he takes some pratfalls, has awkward interactions, and sings songs his lines, just as you’d expect. In other words, his performance doesn’t stand out from the rest of his resume, but it does what it needs to do and if you’re a fan of his work, then you will appreciate this effort. His live action costars handle the absurd material well also, with Leslie Bibb, Rosario Dawson, Donnie Wahlberg, Nat Faxon, Ken Jeong, and Joe Rogan, who is fun as the douchebag rival of Kevin James. The voice actors are silly and over the top and the cast is impressive, with Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Adam Sandler, and Maya Rudolph. The film’s most outlandish performance comes from Nick Nolte, who uses one of the stranger vocal approaches I’ve heard. So while the movie is rather thin, it has a colorful and deep cost involved.