July 7, 2011 -- Can you remember the last time there was a watchable live action animal movie? Whatever happened to that talking pig Babe? Or Andre the seal? In the lighthearted new family comedy "Zookeeper," amid the requisite slapstick, bathroom humor, and sexual innuendo, star Kevin James is almost upstaged by wild animals.
Known for his lovable everyman performances in "Mall Cop" and the syndicated television show "King of Queens," James plays Griffin, a poor man's Dr. Dolittle, aka a zookeeper. In the opening scene, Griffin is jilted on horseback when he proposes to girlfriend Stephanie (Leslie Bibb) on the beach. (She can't imagine marrying a lowly zookeeper.)
Heartbroken, Griffin immerses himself in his work, and becomes the toast of Boston's Franklin Park Zoo, according to his colleague Kate (Rosario Dawson), and the lions, tigers and bears. The only animal he fails to win over is Bernie, a dejected gorilla in solitary confinement for allegedly attacking a human.
Fast forward several years later, and Griffin encounters Stephanie at his brother's engagement party at the zoo. His brother offers him a job as a car salesman at his luxury dealership, and Griffin wonders whether he should abandon his work for a more fashionable life. Lucky for Griffin, elephants have big ears, and when the animals catch wind of his ambitions, they devise a scheme to help him win back Stephanie and remain their fearless leader. The catch: the animals must break their code of silence and give Griffin romance advice -- in English.
Griffin begins to listen to the animals, which are voiced by a menagerie of stars such as Cher, Nick Nolte, Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow, and "Zookeeper" evolves into a childhood fantasy. What love advice would the wolf dish out? To "mark your territory" of course. (Griffin pees in an elegant restaurant dining room). What wisdom would the grizzly bear offer? To walk like a bear and "lead with your pudding cup." (When Griffin sees Stephanie again, he gyrates his pelvis and lets out a growl).
Far from Jimmy Stewart, in "Zookeeper" James is every bit Wile E. Coyote. He hits his head and falls down in every possible wild animal enclosure. If you're 5 years old, this kind of physical comedy keeps the film fresh, but if you're an adult, James' barrage of accidents jump the shark.
But did you hear the joke about the 800-pound semi-animatronic gorilla wearing a polo shirt that walks into TGI Fridays for dinner? Just when the film seems to fall flat for an older audience, "Zookeeper" finds its heart. Griffin befriends Bernie and takes him to TGI Fridays, his favorite restaurant. Somehow Bernie manages to order 30 oranges and dance with a drunken woman at the bar without really being noticed. Griffin and Bernie forge a bromance, and the audience melts.
James, who co-wrote the film, wanted it to be "a funny movie for everybody," he told AbcNews.com. "I've gone to movies with my kids, and I'm just bored out of my skull sometimes because there's no comedy or anything for adults," James said.
"Zookeeper" is definitely a barrelful of monkeys for kids, but with the exception of the charming gorilla-at-the-chain-restaurant scene, the movie passes as merely watchable for adults. "Zookeeper" opens in theaters nationwide Friday July 8.