Thursday, December 22, 2011

They bought a zoo, but not much of a movie

Matt Damon plays a man who buys a zoo in a family-oriented film that's never especially believable.

>We Bought A Zoo is an Americanized adaptation of a memoir by British author Benjamin Mee. I’ve skimmed Mee's book, and it seems significantly smarter than this Cameron Crowe-directed movie, an entertainment made palatable by Matt Damon’s likability as the man who buys the zoo and Scarlett Johansson’s down-to-earth turn as the zookeeper who helps him run it. You also may find that some charm accrues to the movie as a result of its story, the tale of a recent widower (Damon) who climbs out of his grief by buying a rundown zoo and learning something about the zoo business. Damon’s Benjamin not only discovers the world of animals, but breaks through to his angry teen-age son (Colin Ford). In case all that's not enough, we get shots of Benjamin's cute-as-a-button daughter (Maggie Elizabeth Jones). The supporting cast includes Thomas Hayden Church (as Ben’s older, more skeptical brother), and Elle Fanning (as a teen-ager who falls for Ford’s character). Crowe, whose last movie – Elizabethtown – tanked in a big-way flirts with after-school-movie blandness in a movie that never feels believable enough. Granted, there's something undeniably intriguing and even a little cracked about a story that puts some old-fashioned resolve into the task of trying to save a foundering zoo. Know this, though: We Bought A Zoo is long way from Crowe's best work in movies such as Say Anything, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous.

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