Director Frank Coraci seemed to have dumbed down his filmography, bring responsible for comedies like The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy and Click, all starring Adam Sandler, to relative duds like Around the World in 80 Days, and somehow Zookeeper straddles closer to being much of a miss, though it follows the standard formulaic procedure of a romantic comedy where the guy tries ever so hard to woo that girl of his dreams, only that the girl, well, is seriously not worth it.
Kevin James once again plays a self deprecating role as Griffin Keyes the titular zookeeper, and opens the film with a disastrous proposal to his girlfriend Stephanie (Leslie Bibb) who rejects him outright because of his profession. How anyone can do that is beyond me, because it's not as if it's the first day of knowing that fella, but so it goes, and painted the picture of someone after wealth and status, which according to Griffin's soon to be married brother Dave (Nat Faxon) is something a woman like Stephanie would prefer. A job offer at his brother's exotic car showroom would mean Griffin leaving a job that is his calling, and the animals of the zoo have to plot to ensure Griffin stays to care for them.
And that meant an accidental revelation that they can all speak English, fluently, and possess a keen sense of humour, sort of, spending plenty of time bickering than to come up with concrete plans to help our protagonist, and even then, offer tips more suited for the animal world, which allows for some pretty awkward moments, though firmly kept in family friendly territory. In some ways it's similar to Night at the Museum, with the museum pieces coming alive at night, and in the same vein, the animals gather in town hall like fashion when the last patron and caretaker leave the premises to partake in some idle chatter.
Voiced by recognizable folks such as Nick Nolte as the emo Gorilla Bernie who might be more suited in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Adam Sandler as Donald the Monkey Sylvester Stallone as Joe the Lion who fantasizes about being king of the jungle, Cher as the Lioness, Jon Favreau and Faizon Lowe as a pair of Bears, and Maya Rudolph as Mollie the Girraffe, and a whole host of other voices, you'd come to expect that there would be at least some wisecracking animals to liven up the mood and add to the sporadic laughter caused from a rather tired narrative, but tough luck, there was too little of that.
Instead, what we got are the usual rote narrative development where Griffin painfully tries so hard to regain the affections of someone so undeserving and shallow, though some may argue it's natural selection like in the Animal Kingdom where the mate will choose from the strongest of her suitors, with Griffin being in competition with yet another braggart ex-boyfriend (Joe Rogan) of Stephanie's. In some ways it touches upon contemporary strategies usually involving another hot woman, and Griffin's choice to induce jealousy is that of his fellow zoo co-worker Kate (Rosario Dawson), whom you can stay 10 steps ahead to know how what should be role-playing, would turn out to be.
With an ensemble such as the underused Ken Jeong as Venom the reptile house zookeeper and Donnie Wahlberg as the token keeper with a sadistic streak, both of whom should have seen more screen time, Zookeeper is what you would label as an average family entertainer, playing it very safe just like how one would view a zoo exhibit, encased behind a rigid structure that provides plenty of the same, and no surprises.