Fierce Creatures

on January 24, 1997 by Bridget Byrne
Funny. Not quite as perfectly formed funny as the starring cast's previous collaboration, "A Fish Called Wanda," but nevertheless "Fierce Creatures" is laugh, giggle and chuckle provoking. The film contains all that should be hoped for in a farce: men in compromising positions with their pants down around their ankles; good-looking, smart women; and enough pointed satire about issues that matter to give true bite to the jokes.
   The struggles of a little zoo to stay true to its animals in the face of a powerbroker takeover works as an apt example of corporate downsizing and its ugly consequences. The stars all fit naturally into their roles, especially Kevin Kline doing double duty as a vulgar Australian tycoon and his inane but equally greedy son. John Cleese, as a rigid chap who is essentially a good egg, and Michael Palin, as a verbally dexterous know-it-all, do variations on the types that made them famous; Jamie Lee Curtis, as a glamorous executive whose ambitions wilt amid the mammals, manages to be foil, decoration, catalyst and emotional core with consummate ease.
   The real animals, particularly a lemur (played by four of the charming creatures), are totally appealing and could probably have merited more screen time, though it is a shame that animatronics were needed here and there. A crucial, emotion-altering instance with Curtis and a gorilla is undercut by this technology, despite the best efforts of both the actress and the artificial animal. This use of special effects in making the movie, though probably unavoidable, also undercuts a good joke in the script about their use in the restructuring of the zoo into a theme park.
   The script is more a collection of slaphappy scenes than a seamless whole, and the work of two directors probably didn't help in this area. (Fred Schepisi came in after some negative preview testing to reshoot sequences for which Robert Young wasn't available.) But, despite the various bumps, jerks and missteps in the whole, the point really is that Cleese in bed with one unusual animal is always worth a laugh, and this time he's on the wrong side of the blanket with five. Starring John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline and Michael Palin. Directed by Robert Young and Fred Schepisi. Written by John Cleese and Iain Johnstone. Produced by Michael Shamberg and John Cleese. A Universal release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for sexual innuendo and language. Running time 93 min
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