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Fierce Creatures: Anti-Corporate Satire, Sexy Ladies, and Cute Animals Too!
John Cleese is a wonderfully hilarious man. Able to simultaneously play victims of pratfalls and snarky dispensers of sardonic wit, his best roles encapsulate a little bit of both together. He can seem deserving of having his overly inflated ego popped while simultaneously making the audience like him enough to not want to see him completely humiliated.
Cleese's role of Rollo Lee in "Fierce Creatures" is one such role. Cast as a former Hong Kong police officer hired to run a zoo in rural England owned by Kiwi mllionaire Rod McCain (Kevin Kline), Lee at first seems harsh, insisting that only dangerous animals be kept at the zoo, a decree that shocks and worries the zookeepers who manage the cuter and more cuddly zoo animals. When told by the zookeepers that the only thing he can do to get rid of some of the cuter animals is to shoot them himself, he is (supposedly) willing to do it.
However, he soon reveals that he is much more sympathetic than he initially appears. Instead of killing the animals, he keeps them in his own room. And when McCain's son Vince (also Kevin Kline) and Willa Weston (Jamie Lee Curtis), two vicious middle managers sent to oversee the 20% gain in profits that Rod McCain requires, turn up, Rollo Lee starts to seem even somewhat heroic. Willa soon falls in love with the zoo (and is intrigued by Rollo, who through a variety of bizarre circumstances consistently ends up in situations where it appears he is a man of ravenous sexual appetites, even though the actual circumstances are entirely innocent), but Vince only wants to exploit it, bringing in ridiculous licensing deals in order to make fast cash no matter how tacky it makes the zoo look.
This movie does not work as a satire as well as it thinks it does. Rod McCain is a transparent parody of Rupert Murdoch, and many of Vince's ridiculous schemes are ridiculous, and not in a good way like the inspired lunacy of Rollo's plan to only have fierce animals (and the responding attempts by the zookeepers to pass of cuddly animals as ferocious beasts). in too many of Vince's scenes it seems like the film is trying to scream "THiS iS TOPICAL SATiRE!"
What does work is the lunatic satire that revolves around Rollo. As mentioned, some of the best scenes are the ones revolving around Rollo's "ferocious creatures" dictate, with xookeepers pretending that meerkats, lemurs, and coatamundis are bloodthirst monsters. Also fun are the bizarre situations that cause Willa and Vince to think that Rollo is a crazy orgy lover who's having sex with all of the female zookeepers (and possibly some of the zoo animals) at the same time. He isn't, but the reasons why they think he is are some of the best scenes in the movie. A final scene where Vince pretends to be his father also has a fun lunatic quality, as does Michael Palin's role as a zookeeper who won't shut up even when he has a gun to his head.
Besides some of the anti-corporate parody being over the top, the other major problem is shifts in character that happen too fast or offscreen. Rollo at first appears hard edged but too quickly is revealed to be a big softie, and even the villainous VInce strangely seems to become a good guy for the fifteen or so minutes of the movie. This just makes the writing look weak and really hurts the believability of the film.
However, all in all this movie is fun and funny enough that it hits more than it misses. If you liked Kline, Curtis, Palin or Cleese, or you just like looking at cute animals, you should like this film. If you must have believable characters and a plot that's not silly, this may not be. Anyways, check it out if you found it, you'll probably like it.