We Bought a Zoo

EntertainmentMusicMoviesArts and CultureCameron CroweNeil YoungJack in the Box Incorporated

I had so much fun writing a movie review recently to the lyrics of A Horse With No Name, I thought I’d try the Beverly Hillbillies theme song for We Bought a Zoo.

Come and listen to a story about a man named Benjamin/A newspaper reporter, whose wife is dead

Then one day while searching for a house/He sees a run down zoo, but Scarlett wearing a blouse

Johansson, that is. She’s a hottie.

Well the first thing you know, Ben gets hit by a bear/The zoo folk said “Ben, move away from there.”

They said “the lion den is the place you ought to be,”/So his punk boy and daughter became happy

Sort of. Cleaning poop. Exotic snakes.

Well, now its time for the inspector to say everything is wrong/Some staff get drunk, and others get strong

They invite the town when it opens and hope to make some dough/A storm comes in, everyone says “Oh no!”

Like Kevin Costner once heard “build it, they’ll come.”

And come back again, y’hear?

Okay, that was fun.

Since Cameron Crowe is a San Diegan the way Jewel is (famous people we like to claim as our own for their brief stays here), I always look forward to how he’ll name drop our fine city. In this movie, a USD sweatshirt kept popping up, he mentioned El Cajon, Balboa Park, and a vet was brought in from San Diego.

I went to see this at the Edwards Theatre in Mira Mesa. Having grown up in Mira Mesa, I remember how thrilled we were in the late ‘70s when the 4-plex was built (it’s now a Filipino restaurant called Jollibee).

In the early ‘90s, the movie theatre went across the street and became a 12-plex. It’s now an Asian market.

So, the huge Edwards 18-plex opened at the end of Mira Mesa Boulevard, complete with Imax screens and in a strip mall. When I grew up there, it was all dirty after the Jack in the Box.  

It would’ve been nice if returning to my old stompin’ grounds would’ve been for a good movie. I love Cameron Crowe films.

He wrote Fast Times at Ridgemont High – a classic. I also liked Jerry Maguire, Singles, Almost Famous, and even Vanilla Sky, which got mixed reviews.

Crowe had a flop with Elizabethtown six years ago, and this is his first movie since then. Maybe he wanted to play it safe and get the crowds back on his side (as I’m guessing most will like the film).

Since it’s PG, I’m guessing you won’t bring young kids to it. And there weren’t enough animals (until the second half), to keep older kids entertained.

The cast of this film is appealing enough. Matt Damon brings that normal guy quality to the role. It makes it easy to sympathize for him.

Scarlett Johansson is attractive, even when she’s spouting off zoo terms. Elle Fanning is trying to, along with her sister Dakota, do what the Culkin kids did for movies years ago. Star in every one that needs a child actor.

Patrick Fugit, so enjoyable in Almost Famous, is given nothing to do but get hit on the head by a monkey (something I felt like was happening while watching this garbage).

There is so much wrong with this movie, it baffles me that any adult would enjoy it. How can anybody think it’s clever or funny, when attractive women in front of the school hand Damon lasagna and come on to him so soon after his wife has died? And are we supposed to laugh when he opens the fridge and there are 10 pans of lasagna in there?

Or the principal of the school talking about how bad his son is, and sounding like a sitcom character. Oh, and that troubled kid…a character I’m so sick of seeing. We’re manipulated into feeling sorry for him, since his mother died. He’s a tortured artist, drawing pictures that look like Marilyn Manson album covers.

I can always rely on Crowe to provide a great soundtrack. Things start off promising when I heard rare songs from Randy Newman and Cat Stevens. Then I heard his usual suspects – Tom Petty, Neil Young, and the exact same Temple of the Dog and Bob Dylan songs he’s used in other movies. Don’t get me wrong, I love Hunger Strike and Buckets of Rain, but using the same songs is just as distracting as when Scorsese does it with the Rolling Stones.

Instead of Crowe picking from his favorite playlist, why not do songs that would fit the theme of the movie? The Scorpions “Zoo,” or songs by The Animals, Monkeys, or Byrds. What about “Our House” by CSN? And if he’s going Neil Young, why not “Sugar Mountain”? But I digress.

The music is small potatoes. I have bigger problems with the cliché ridden stuff on the screen. Nothing is more frustrating than watching a movie you’re rooting for. It’s based on a true story, and we want to enjoy the ride.

Yet when I watch Damon throwing fits like a 12-year-old, or two different times looking at pictures of his wife on the computer – I want to use my popcorn tub to barf into.

We enjoyed Thomas Hayden Church talking Paul Giamatti into meeting women in Sideways, yet every scene in which he tells Damon to sleep with a woman, or to not buy the zoo…I wondered why he was being wasted. He had a much smaller part in Easy A, but was so much funnier.

And did the girl need to say the film title 10 times in the movie? It was cute the first time, not the next nine.

If you want to see a better movie about a guy grieving over his wife and trying to deal with two kids – and you don’t mind substituting pineapples for tigers – rent The Descendants.

This movie gets 1 ½ stars out of 5.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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