|"Don't ever call me 'Bobo' again, damnit"|
You’d think that a movie about Kevin James talking to animals wouldn’t be amusing, right? I would think that, too. And, I did, since I started seeing the banners all over San Francisco during my coffee outings with friends and co-workers. We’d joke back and forth about him being a tubby Dr. Dolittle, or Dr. Eatmuch, or whatever. But, those are low blows. Fact is, Kevin James is a talented guy, and a decent actor who gets stuck doing the second-hand Chris Farley shtick for Camp Sandler (you know, Adam Sandler and his best friends; Grown Ups, being as good as it is, is an exception). Here, watching Kevin James have talk soup with a gorilla isn’t as bad as it might seem, simply because of what they’re saying. Of course, you can raise an eyebrow or both about the screenplay taking five writers to finish, but… no, let’s just enjoy the story.
Griffin (Kevin James) is a zookeeper. Get it? That, and he’s a hopeless romantic. The film opens with a seemingly out of place shot of him riding on a horse with his girlfriend, Stephanie (Leslie Gibb). She’s not the one for him, as she turns down his proposal in a heartbeat. Never mind all the stops that were pulled out. Those don’t matter, really. Five years later, Griffin seems to be back on his feet, still working for the zoo, tending the animals, and kind of crushing but not really on the infinitely better-for-him Kate (the infallible Rosario Dawson). I can say infinitely better because there’s a formula at work here that’s as old as animal husbandry. Goofy guy tries to get his hot ex back using goofy routines, only to discover that being goofy is suave and gets a better girl. The difference here is that the animals are hooking him up.
The voices of the animals are as follows - Bernie the Gorilla is Nick Nolte, Donald the Monkey is Adam Sandler, Joe the Lion is Sylvester Stallone, Janet the Lioness is Cher, Barry the Elephant is Judd Apatow, Jerome the Bear is Jon Favreau, Bruce the Bear is Faizon Love, Mollie the Giraffe is Maya Rudolph, Sebastian the Wolf is Bas Rutten, and then there’s simply ‘frog’ by Don Rickles. That’s a hell of a voice-over team. And each actor is perfectly suited for their animals. They’re the most entertaining part of the film, especially the way their dialogue is designed, almost as if to fit whatever extra footage they had of the animals playing around. Their interactions are fantastic.
It’s unfortunate that the film follows as much formula as it does, given the opportunities for gold that it mines; the idea of using the animals’ own mating habits to get Griffin his girl isn’t exactly screenwriting gold, but the execution is loads of fun. Could have run a bit deeper and meant a bit more, and the humor probably could have been either broader or darker (think, oh… Strange Wilderness, for example). But, that might belie the intent of the screenplay. Just to show a sweet story about a man, a woman, their love, and its connection with nature. Or, maybe I’m even reading too much into that. Maybe they just wanted Kevin James to be fat with some animals for an hour and a half. Either way, both intentions were realized, and they pay off was better than it should have been. Predictable ending, but… formula. It’s almost Darwinian.