We Bought a Zoo
A widowed father played by Matt Damon moves to the South Californian country and purchases a zoo with his family
On Film4: 31 Aug 6:25PM
Comedy starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a workaholic dad trying to buy his son an elusive must-have toy for Christmas
It's weird enough to think that the man who was Conan, the Terminator and Colonel Matrix has become a high ranking political figure, but that transition from action hero to 'Governator' becomes even more boggling in the light of Arnie's comic turns - in Twins, Kindergarten Cop, Junior and Jingle All The Way.
Here Schwarzenegger plays Howard Langston, a workaholic who doesn't spend enough time with his family, upsetting his young son Jamie (the soon-to-be Anakin Skywalker, Lloyd) when he misses a karate class event. Howard is so work-oriented, he even signs off a phone conversation to wife Liz (Wilson) with his stock phrase "You're my number one customer."
To try and right his wrongs, Howard says to Jamie: "You think I can make it up to you? Like if there's something really important that you've been wanting for Christmas, hm?" To which Jamie has a very specific request - he wants a particular action figure, TurboMan, his favourite TV, comic book and cereal character. "Johnny's gonna get one and so is everybody else I know. Whoever doesn't is gonna be a real loser," says Jamie. And if that emotional situation wasn't enough of a minefield, Howard is faced by the challenge of getting his hands on "the hottest-selling Christmas toy ever!"
The TurboMan doll has seemingly sold out everywhere, and as Howard rushes around on Christmas Eve trying to find one, he comes into conflict ("This is war!") with another desperate dad, manic postman Myron, played by US comic Sinbad (aka David Atkins). He's an irritating character, and that in tandem with Arnie's meagre abilities when it comes to both the ostensibly funny stuff and the soppy sentimental stuff doesn't make for a winning double act. Danny DeVito carried him rather better in their comedy pairings.
Some slyer comedy is provided by Phil Hartman, the 'SNL' alumnus and voice of Troy McClure who died in 1998. He plays the neighbourhood nice guy - a seemingly perfect dad and neighbour, who's really a sleazy divorcee trying to take advantage of wives with absent husbands like Howard.
There's also a nice supporting role for James Belushi as a bad Santa, part of a con racket to fob kids off with poor quality toys. Veteran actor Robert Conrad (star of the original 'Wild Wild West' TV series) also pops up as a cop Howard keep accidentally injuring.
Indeed, accidents are the backbone of the comedy in this film directed by Brian Levant (The Flintstones, Are We There Yet?) and produced by Chris "let's-not-forget-he-did-Home-Alone-before-Harry-Potter" Columbus. There is some heavy-handed satire about the exploitation of kids and parents with the culture of branded, must-have toys, but for the most part the film is built around physical comedy - pratfalls, pile-ons and situations where Arnie has to crawl through children's playground equipment.
He gets to do a bit of suburban action heroics though, scrapping the bad Santas (including one played by former WWE The Big Show) before the climax sees him mistaken for a stuntman and dressed up as TurboMan for a parade. Cue stunts and special effects that strain any credulity the film might have had, but will probably be enjoyed by kids.
A film with a mental age of about four, but probably aimed at kids a little older.
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