Zookeeper is essentially a surreally awful Happy Madison Productions version of Mad Libs. It takes all the clichés and hackneyed truisms about doing what you love and being yourself that characterize the Adam Sandler company’s films and throws in lots and lots of insipid jokes about talking zoo animals. There’s nothing necessarily unfunny about talking zoo animals, mind you—but in this case, there’s nothing that Click director Frank Coraci and Zookeeper’s team of five screenwriters, including star Kevin James, get right. Coraci and the gang are betting that it’s been a while since you’ve seen anything approaching Zookeeper’s level of mind-melting vapidity. After all, when was the last time you saw James pee on a wolf, a gorilla with Nick Nolte’s voice operate a kayak, or that same gorilla wonder aloud just how good the food at T.G.I. Friday’s really is? Not only is there no good answer to that question, there’s also no good reason for bothering with the film.
There’s a formula to creating something as terrible as Zookeeper. Take two attractive actresses—Leslie Bibb and Rosario Dawson—and have them represent arbitrary polar-opposite personality traits (Bibb’s vapid love of art vs. Dawson’s soulful love of animal husbandry!). Add James, doing his fat-guy-that-crashes-into-the-concrete-every-fourth-scene routine, while trying to pick one of those two hot women. Finally, throw in some quirky talking animals, like Nolte’s chain-food restaurant-obsessed gorilla and a capuchin monkey voiced by Sandler, who sounds like George Burns if George Burns were a stroke victim.
The result is one of the most grating things that will be excreted onto the screen this year. Hyperbolic rage is too good for Zookeeper. It really has no redeeming qualities to it—unless you think seeing something new and perplexing is necessarily exciting. Because if so, Zookeeper has got it all. You will see former Fear Factor host Joe Rogan, as James’s character’s rival for Bibb’s hand, bike race James through street traffic. You will see Nolte’s gorilla sing along with James to Flo Rida’s “Low.” You will even see Cher and Sylvester Stallone voicing a pair of lions that bicker all the time. And you won’t believe any of it could be as unfunny or obliviously ludicrous as it is. But try as you might to convince yourself otherwise: Yes, Virginia, there is a Zookeeper. It absolutely exists and it’s monumentally terrible. Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son now has competition for worst picture of the year.