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Amy Holden Jones
Jamie Lee Curtis,
A massive corporate conglomerate, Octopus Inc., run by a shrewd and cruel tycoon named Rod McCain, purchases a UK-based leisure company, and also the failing London Marwood Zoo. To bring more business to the zoo, Octopus hires a new manager, Rollo Lee, who promptly comes up with a way to increase profits-do away with all the animals except for the ferocious ones. This new Fierce Creatures Policy shocks the Marwood zookeepers, led by the unendingly talkative Adrian "Bugsy" Malone. Eventually, Rod McCain's son Vince, along with the up-and-coming business executive Willa Weston, take control of the zoo and revoke the Fierce Creatures Policy. Vince instead comes up with many under-handed and vicious schemes to attract customers-unauthorized celebrity endorsements, shoddy, overpriced zoo merchandise, and using robotic animals instead of real ones. However, Vince is also stealing from the zoo's funds, and when his father finds out, he rears to turn the zoo into a Japanese-owned golf course.... Written by
Josh Martin <email@example.com>
Yes, I know it wasn't as good as A Fish Called Wanda (which it was the unofficial "sequel" to - being not a continuation of the same characters, but featuring all the same lead actors, in roughly the same configuration and relation to one another as in the previous film). And yes, it's clear that John Cleese has lost a step or three on his precision and comic timing (though John Cleese at half speed is still funnier than most comic actors working today). But this film has such a sweetness and a general good spirit to it that I find it impossible to dislike.
The story itself is rather convoluted, and one could make a fair claim that it seems more a hodge-podge of stitched together ideas than a seamless throughline. That is so, and yet since it is a hodge podge of almost entirely *good* ideas, it's harder to find fault with. Cleese stars as an ex-cop who is hired by a huge Rupert Murdoch-like conglomerate to run an English zoo that they have picked up in a mergers acquisition. Needless to say, the zoo has absolutely no inherent interest to the company, but they are willing to keep it going if it can return a profit at a certain rate. Cleese plans to do this is by appealing to people's bloodlust, and only keeping the most dangerous and fearsome of the animals (the "fierce creatures" of the title). Things change somewhat when Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline show up to take over Cleese's job (but keep him on as an employee). A brainstorm by Kline (playing a character every bit as hilariously slimy and petty as his counterpart in Wanda) introduces the notion of corporate sponsorship into the zoo-going experience. Eventually, all the employees are decked out in animal costumes (like mascots at a "Zoo Land" amusement park), and Kline has even begun the process of introducing animatronic creatures behind the bars. All the while, a budding romance between Cleese and Curtis is playing out behind the scenes, and the two eventually join forces to try and save the zoo from the clutches of the crass and evil conglomerate.
Any one of the comic scenarios the film-makers bring up would be worth exploring to the end. The fact that they cannot seem to keep one satirical conceit going for any stretch, and feel the need to overhaul the plot in a new direction every twenty minutes or so, definitely lessens the impact the movie could have had. And yet, for example: just because the writers beg off early on the "fierce creatures" idea doesn't make it any less hilarious - both as a concept and in execution. The scenes of the kindly zookeepers trying to sell their individual cute little animals as dangerous is one of the funniest scenes in the movie. But then, later, when that concept has been forgotten, and we instead see Kevin Kline leading around a group of potential financial backers, giving them his notions of how corporate sponsorship could work at the zoo . . . well, that's one of the funniest scenes too. What I'm saying is, though a strong focus is something the film lacks, it makes up for it by filling its running time with enough entertaining and well devised comic moments to make you feel like you got your money's worth.
The performances help. As in Fish Called Wanda, Jamie Lee Curtis is not particularly noteworthy as an actress OR a comedienne, but she gets by on her general sultriness and willingness to play cheerfully along. Most importantly, she keeps out of the way of the big boys and lets them do their stuff. As I mentioned, Cleese is a little moldier here than usual, but there's still no one who does high-strung fussiness better, and he holds down the screen nicely. As with Wanda, though, it's Kevin Kline who really steals the show - this time in a dual role, as the Murdoch-like head of the conglomerate and his stupid slimeball son who has big plans for the zoo (as well as getting into Curtis's pants). The sheer *energy* he throws out is infectious, and his ability to "play off" himself - in the scenes between father and son - is nothing short of superb. Blessedly, the dual role bit is revealed as more than just an actor's stunt by the way the movie is resolved: had Kline not been playing both roles, the movie could never end the way it does. That, too, was a nice touch.
Genial, breezy, good spirted - this is Fierce Creatures. Nothing in the masterpiece league but, especially if you've seen A Fish Called Wanda, it's a nice evening spent with old friends - with some new and well devised jokes thrown into the mix.
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