Wednesday, December 21, 2011

WE BOUGHT A ZOO - Nice But Formulaic

WE BOUGHT A ZOO (family drama)
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Matt Damon, Elle Fanning, Carla Gallo, Thomas Haden Church, Patrick Fugit, Stephanie Szostak, Colin Ford, John Michael Higgins and Desi Lydic
Director: Cameron Crowe
Screenplay: Aline Brosh McKenna and Crowe, from the book by Benjamin Mee
Time: 123 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

PREAMBLE: Here's another contender for the sentimental Yuletide fare at the cineplex. From the title and poster, you should be able to guess that it is soppy family stuff with some animal antics thrown in. However, with such a crowded list of offerings in store, I don't expect this Matt Damon-ScarJo vehicle to do well at the holiday B-O stakes.

We Bought A Zoo is adapted from a true story and book by Benjamin Mee.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) is a recently widowed dad struggling to raise a teenage son (Colin Ford as Dylan) and a young daughter (Maggie Elizabeth Jones as Rosie). Taking advice from his elder brother (Thomas Haden Church) to start anew, Benjamin goes looking for a new house. When he finds the perfect place he discovers that it has a catch: it’s actually a defunct zoo.

For Rosie's sake, Benjamin decides to invest in the Rosemoor Animal Park and, with the help of its zookeeper, Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson), and her motley crew, try to restore the park to its former glory.

HITS & MISSES: This is Cameron Crowe's comeback film after Elizabethtown in 2005. It is definitely not his best work (which is still the 1996 Jerry Maguire) but his talent for bringing out the best in his cast is evident. Damon carries the movie solidly as its lead, ScarJo (pic left with Maggie Elizabeth Jones) is a bit underwritten but her Kelly is compelling whenever she is onscreen, and Church provides some comic relief.

The star who attracts us most is Elle Fanning who plays Lily, an assistant at the zoo and romantic foil for Colin Ford's Dylan. Fanning's is a small role but she brightens up the screen whenever she appears, providing the star attraction for youngsters in the audience - besides Spa the tiger and Buster the bear, of course.

On the minus side, the film is rather long drawn with many repetitive scenes; there are some loose ends and plot holes, while some attempts at comedy fall flat (especially those by John Michael Higgins as the zoo inspector).

THE LOWDOWN: Its heart is in the right place, everything else is formulaic.


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