Zookeeper Dir. Frank Coraci

[Sony Pictures; 2011]

Styles: comedy
Others: Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Click, Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo

As if an answer to a summer filled with at-least-passable comedies: the new Kevin James prat-and-scat parade Zookeeper, in which James pisses on and then gives a rubdown to a wolf (etc…), splits the ass of his pants while acting like a frog at a wedding (etc…), and is forced to choose between two beautiful women who are (naturally) completely smitten with the schlubbier side of his studied average-ness.

Rob Schneider, another comedy schlub who got to be a movie star by piggy-backing off the career of Adam Sandler, comes to mind when watching Zookeeper. It’s just about at Schneider’s level of talent — and intelligence. Schneider’s paradigm for modest success in juvenile comedies was to pick a single-joke concept — either a wacky job or, even less imaginatively, a wacky character trait — and shake it like a crying baby for 90 minutes. That method ran its course; Schneider’s career as a star has dried up. But his role in the world of comedy has been squeezed into by Kevin James, and the paradigm has hardly changed.

James is the star of Paul Blart: Mall Cop (about the slapstick travails of being the guy who polices malls); a handful of movies headlined by Adam Sandler and Vince Vaughn; and now Zookeeper, which is about the pratfall travails of being the guy who polices captive animals. Gigolo/mall cop, animal/zookeeper, Grown Ups/Grown Ups: the connection between Schneider and James is fairly simple, but what to make of it? Is James simply a fatter version of Schneider, a comedic peg on which to hang any underthought concept a studio can devise? Or does his greater box office clout hint at some greater appeal, possibly to the Everyman? Does anyone care about either of them to begin with? Or is it just that enough people are willing to give the comic transmigration of souls and/or talking animals a one-weekend shot to keep them moderately popular? Is there anything to make of a connection between a prince of one-note comedy from the early aughts and another from the early teens? That every young generation finds a hack to latch on to? It’s almost as exhausting trying to account for the popularity of talentless comedians as it is to watch their movies.

In any case, like Schneider before him, enough of the small children who enjoy James’ mugging will soon grow old enough to see the flimsiness of his tricks, after which point he’ll probably end up sticking to cameos in the films of the inexplicably invincible, sporadically ambitious Sandler.

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