ZOOKEEPER

July 11, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. We are all fine with the endless stream of animation featuring talking animals. The rules change a bit when the movie is live action … and the animals still talk! Not only do they talk, but they are giving lessons in love to zookeeper extraordinare Griffin (Kevin James) ala Dr. Phil.

Personally I think Kevin James is more suited to television, but it’s hard to argue with the huge box office success of Paul Blart Mall Cop. This movie isn’t quite as creative as that one, but for mindless summertime fun in an air-conditioned environment and a kid-friendly theme, it’s passable.

 The kid-friendly theme is somewhat misleading. To me, it’s the greatest flaw of the movie. It can’t seem to decide if it wants to be a kids movie or a “clever” film for kids that adults will enjoy. I don’t think most adults will enjoy it much, and I think most kids will be confused and bored by the adult plot of helping Kevin James land the girl and discover his true self.  But for kids, the animal scenes should sustain them.  I am not sure that TGI Fridays is enough for adults.

If you are going to have talking animals these days, you must have high priced voices … even though you can’t recognize them. Some of the vocal talent on display includes Sylvester Stallone and Cher as lions, Nick Nolte as the gorilla, Jupp Apatow as an elephant, producer Adam Sandler as the monkey (“throw poop”), Faizon Love and Jon Favreau as arguing bears, Maya Rudolph as an off-key giraffe, and Don Rickles as a frog.

 The story is this: Kevin James is a nice guy zookeeper who is loved by the animals, but spurned in marriage proposal by his girlfriend Leslie Bibb, who wants him to make more money. He works with nice gal Rosario Dawson who likes him so much that she agrees to help him get the shallow Bibb back. Other zoo co-workers include Donnie Wahlberg and Ken Jeong, who must be in every third movie released this year. Yada, Yada, Yada … animals give advice, Kevin James learns about real love, gorilla learns some people can be trusted, they all live happily ever after. I don’t consider that a spoiler.

The movie is produced by Adam Sandler and directed by his buddy Frank Coraci. Coraci also directed a comedy I kind of like (The Wedding Singer) and a couple I absolutely couldn’t stand (Click, The Waterboy). Anyway, if you are looking for mindless fun with the family, this one is safe though not inspired.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you don’t believe anyone (including a gorilla) can have fun at TGI Fridays.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: a step down from Night at the Museum is a step you prefer not to take


BRIDESMAIDS

May 29, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Kristen Wiig is everywhere these days! If you don’t know the name, you certainly know her face. She is credited with 26 projects since 2009 – and that doesn’t even count her weekly work on Saturday Night Live. She is the new Tina Faye … even though the “old” Tina Faye is still going very strong.

While I have little doubt that the success of The Hangover was a driving force behind the green lighting of this film, Ms. Wiig’s writing and acting talent elevate this mixture of chick-flick and comedy into one of the finest female film comedies in quite awhile. That’s probably not strong enough praise since the category is a bit sparse, but as a guy who gets really tired of the formulaic chick-flick rom-coms and sappy dramas, I found the film to be quite refreshing and entertaining.

 Sure, there are many similarities between this and The Hangover, but the difference is that the key element of female friendship is never far away from the often raunchy comedy we are witnessing. Women so value their BFF’s and Ms. Wiig and her writing partner Annie Mumolo (seen as a nervous plane passenger) never lose sight of this.

Also key to any group of female activity is the competitive nature and envious mutterings. They try so hard to appear happy for their friends, when often they are blinded by the current funk in which they find their own life. And look out when a beautiful, rich “new” friend enters the picture. The real fireworks begin … even in the battle for the last word on the mic at the engagement party! I am not going to give away any of the punchlines or set-ups, but I will highlight the cast. Maya Rudolph is Lillian, the bride to be and lifelong friend of Annie (Wiig); Ellie Kemper (The Office) is Becca, the goody-two shoes newlywed; Wendi McLendon-Covey (Reno 911) is Rita, the bitter, frustrated long-time mother and wife looking for inspiration; Melissa McCarthy (Mike & Molly, Gilmore Girls) is Megan, the slapstick, gross-out comedy relief; Rose Byrne is Helen, the aforementioned seemingly perfect “new” friend; Chris O’Dowd (Blind Swordsman in Dinner for Schmucks) is Officer Rhodes, the nice guy who has a crush on Annie; Jon Hamm (Mad Men) as Annie’s Porsche driving bootie call; and Jill Clayburgh (her final film role) as Annie’s mom.

The film is produced by comedy expert Judd Apatow and directed by Paul Feig.  Mr. Feig was the creator of “Freaks and Geeks” and has been involved in most of the best TV comedies over the past 7 or 8 years.  Oddly enough, he also wrote and directed one of my favorite lost gems from 2003 called I Am David.  It’s a drama, not a comedy, but I recommend it.

Here is hoping Ms. Wiig continues to push the boundaries of creative comedy for women. I for one look forward to seeing women on screen as more than just love interests and femme fatales.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are starved for a real comedy with real women characters (written by women) OR you always wondered what a female Zach Galifianakis would look like

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you hated The Hangover OR you prefer your chick flicks to be melodramatic and sappy, rather than raunchy and real