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Monkey business that falls flat

I must admit, the brooding big guy of "Zookeeper" has his funny moments.

Not Keven James, who plays the title role.  I'm talking about Nick Nolte, who provides the voice of Bernie, the abused, gruff gorilla.

Bernie just wants to get to TGI Fridays.  The filmmakers probably did too; product placement bucks, you know.

I just wanted to find the entrance to the exit ASAP.

"Zookeeper" may appeal some to children.  For adults who go with them, however, it's likely to be a long afternoon or evening at the movies.

James last graced the big screen opposite Vince Vaughn in "The Dilemma," a dismal film that was neither buddy comedy nor buddy drama, but fizzled somewhere in between.  (Certainly one of Ron Howard's worst films.)

In "Zookeeper," James takes the spotlight solo.  He's Griffin Keyes, a kindly Boston zoo keeper who's humiliated when he proposes to his snobbish girlfriend Stephanie (Leslie Bibb of the "Iron Man" franchise) and gets turned down flat.

Years pass and Kate (Rosario Dawson of "Sin City" fame), a guest zoo veterinarian, is showing signs of warming to Griffin.  He's too dense to notice, so the animals break the long-held code of silence and begin to not only talk to Griffin, but coach him on winning Stephanie back.

This is probably not a scenario that "Doctor Doolittle" -- Rex Harrison (1967) or Eddie Murphy (1998, 2001) -- would be found in.  With five screenwriters involved, including James, this sort of entertainment flatness is not uncommon.

There's one thing I like about "Zookeeper," though.  Most of the animals are real (and trained).  Only the aforementioned gorilla is animatronic.  Nolte makes that one appear real through his guttural bellows of solitude and loneliness.

When it comes to the animal voices, Adam Sandler is also a standout as Donald the Monkey, while Sylvester Stallone and Cher are fun as Joe the Lion and Janet the Lioness.

There are some decent elements involved in this production shot at the Franklin Zoo in Boston.  Unfortunately, director Frank Coraci, a frequent collaborator with co-producer Adam Sandler, can't focus the mayhem into enough combustible comedy to keep it interesting.

Coraci directed a couple of very good Sandler comedies:  "The Wedding Singer" and "The Waterboy."

"Click," his most recent Sandler collaboration, didn't in 2006, however.

Sadly, "Zookeeper" flounders so often it really should be about sea creatures.


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