Directed by Robert Young, Fred Schepisi. Starring John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin, Ronnie Corbett, Carey Lowell, Robert Lindsay. (1997, PG-13, 93 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 24, 1997
As a general rule of thumb, studios reserve the month of January for the release of those films deemed “not so hot.” It is a month of clunkers, wastrels, and layabouts as far as Hollywood is concerned, and with that in mind, it is immensely pleasing to see that this non-sequel sequel to one of the highest-grossing British films of all time, A Fish Called Wanda, is, in fact, the genuine article. It neither clunks, wastes, nor lays about, but instead races, pirouettes, and gambols from scene to scene with a reckless, thoroughly British abandon not seen since, well, A Fish Called Wanda. Actually, it doesn’t pirouette per se, but the film is wonderfully manic in its own eccentric way, a fashion that Monty Python alums Cleese and Palin mastered decades ago. Cleese is Rollo Lee, a former Hong Kong police officer who now works for a TV station owned by the evil Atlanta-based media empire Octopus, Inc. When Octopus offhandedly acquires a British zoo one day, Rollo is sent to manage it and see if he can’t milk a 20% return on the investment for foul Octopus CEO Rod McCain (Kline). To this end, Rollo decides that the zoo must from now on stock only “fierce animals,” the line of thought being that the public is far more interested in the violent, terrifying species than in the cuddly ones. Meanwhile, McCain sends his new executive Willa Weston (Curtis) and egomaniacal, testosterone-fueled son Vince (Kline, again) to keep an eye on the proceedings abroad. Willa has grandiose dreams of turning the zoo into the first of a series of animal theme parks, Vince has grandiose dreams of bedding Willa, and Rollo, meanwhile, just wants to hold onto his job. As in their previous outing, the four principals move as a well-oiled comedy machine. Curtis has had her comic timing down ever since 1983’s Trading Places, and it’s only gotten better with time, and the rest are non-pareil as well. Schepisi and Young wisely let the leads run riot, making this perhaps the first zoological sex farce that plays like an old Carry On feature. There are occasional outbursts of zealous overacting, but I suppose that’s to be expected here. Precious little can detract from the bizarre hilarity of watching the zoo’s staff trying to convince Rollo and Company that the lemur is indeed a vicious maneater. Inspired lunacy.