Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"Fierce Creatures" (1997)

Starring John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline
Written by John Cleese
Directed by Fred Schepisi and Robert Young
Rated PG-13 - Language, violence
Running Time: 93 Minutes

Fierce Creatures"Fierce Creatures" is a follow-up, but totally not a sequel, to "A Fish Called Wanda."  Starring the same cast and written by John Cleese, it features a number of similarities to the earlier film, but definitely stands on its own. 

This time, John Cleese stars as Rollo Lee, a former Hong Kong policeman who has just taken a management position at a British zoo that has just been purchased by New Zealand business giant Rod McCain (Kevin Kline).  In order to meet McCain's profit margin standards, Rollo decides to implement a 'fierce creatures only' policy to attract more visitors, since he thinks violence will get bigger crowds.  Meanwhile, Rod's son Vince (also Kevin Kline) and attractive businesswoman Willa Weston (Jamie Lee Curtis) decide they're the ones that are going to run the zoo and get it up to spec.  Vince's idea is to use corporate sponsorship to increase revenue, a plan that Willa is, at first, supportive. 

Rollo, Willa and Vince's plans to make more money don't sit well with the zoo staff, who all think the zoo should be more about protecting the animals than profit margins.  As Rollo and Willa grow closer to the animals, they also grow closer to each other, which spurs Vince's jealousy.  When Rollo and Willa discover that Vince has been stealing money from the zoo, and that Rod is on the way to confront Vince about it, they must act quickly to figure out a way to save the zoo from being sold and turned into a golf course.

"Fierce Creatures" is an interesting proposition.  Not a sequel, but featuring the same cast playing similar characters, it's hard not to watch it and not be completely reminded of "Wanda."  Of course, if it actually were a sequel, none of it would really work, so you're left with this odd feeling of deja vu throughout the film that never quite goes away.

Fortunately, "Fierce Creatures" is quite funny, which negates any nagging problems about sequels or what-have-you.  As a PG-13 film, "Fierce Creatures" is a bit broader in its comedy than "Wanda," and therefore easier to digest.  While "Wanda" took some time to get going, "Fierce Creatures" is firing on all cylinders from the get-go.  It relies somewhat less on recurring gags and more on funny turns of a phrase or silly sitcom antics that are all quite well constructed.  There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments to be found here, especially anything having to do with Cleese's suspected sexual proclivities. 

The cast is all clearly having fun, though Kline is obviously over-doing it.  Whether that was by design or not, I can't say.  But there are times when Vince is grating instead of funny, as though Kline thinks perhaps that he's not getting as many laughs as Cleese or Curtis and is overcompensating.  It can be annoying, though his short bits as the overbearing Rod McCain are totally hilarious.  Michael Palin also returns, this time as a chatterbox zookeeper who can't be silenced.  He gets a few truly great bits, like when he gets trapped in Rod's hotel room and loses his tarantula.

The film is also loaded with little nods to "A Fish Called Wanda," which are cute.  In the final scene of the film, Cleese calls Curtis' character Wanda, which is an obvious in-joke.  Unfortunately, it took me right out of the film.  I frowned instead of laughing; if this had been thrown in far earlier, say, when Rollo and Willa first meet, it would have been funny.  To have it happen at the end when the two have declared their love for each other and all that simply grinds the whole scene to a halt, which is too bad. 

"Fierce Creatures" is a totally worthy film, whatever it may be - sequel, followup, "side-quel" or any other sort of buzzword label you want to give it.  It's brisker and funnier than "A Fish Called Wanda," though perhaps not quite as intense.  The PG-13 rating gives it a broader, more toned-down feel, and the dialogue seems more in tune with Cleese and Palin's "Monty Python" work (which, frankly, is welcome for me!)

See Also
A Fish Called Wanda