"Fierce Creatures," which reunites John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin
Kline and Michael Palin from "A Fish Called Wanda," is a pleasant, funny
little film. It's not anywhere near as good as "Wanda," which is a shame,
but even a half-baked offering from this cast is much more entertaining
than what usually passes for comedy.
Kline plays Rod McCain, a blustering Rupert Murdoch-like billionaire
mogul who buys and sells just for the power rush. Management of one of
his recent acquisitions, a British zoo, is delegated to Rollo Lee
(Cleese), whose duty is to wring a 20% profit from the place, or else.
Lee, operating on the theory that violence is the only thing that sells,
declares that the zoo must be purged of all but the dangerous animals,
hence the "fierce creatures" of the title. His efforts are complicated by
the arrival of two Americans; newly hired marketing expert Willa Weston
(Curtis) and McCain's loutish son Vince (Kline again,) who aspires to
transform the zoo into a corporate and celebrity sponsored theme park.
Palin plays one of the outraged zoo employees, a obsessive walking
encyclopedia who never shuts his mouth.
The multi-layered story line is promising, and delivers some juicy
moments. The zoo keepers try to save their furry friends by convincing
Lee that their animals are dangerous, leading to some very creative lying.
One staff member gestures towards a group of meek animals and exclaims
"the meercat is known as the piranha of the desert. It can strip a corpse
clean in three minutes!" Moments later, another zoo keeper staggers by,
wearing a fake bloody eye patch and crying "It's the sea lion, sir!"
Despite the many juicy moments in "Fierce Creatures," the film has an
uneven and occassionally forced feel. This isn't surprising, as the
production endured a reworked script, two directors, and several reshot
scenes. In "A Fish Called Wanda," the story and the character development
flowed smoothly. Things are more herky-jerky in this film.
Michael Palin is essentially wasted as the talky zoo-keeper. His
character is wafer-thin – he exists only to annoy. Palin often did this
sort of thing in Monty Python skits, but those sketches were just a few
minutes long. Why a performer of his caliber chose to play a one-note bit
part is mystifying.
Jamie Lee Curtis fares better. Her character, an extremely bright
corporate climber, has an abrupt change in personality mid way into the
movie, going from ruthless to sweet in seconds. It's an awkward change,
but Curtis handles it well. Despite the frantic goings-on, she radiates
an air of confidence and serenity. The combination of intelligence, drop
dead good looks and that wicked twinkle in her eye make Curtis a
compelling screen presence.
In his dual roles as father and son, Kevin Kline is clearly having a
whale of a good time. As the tyrant Rod McCain, Kline is suitably pompous
and self-absorbed, punctuating his statements with belches and flatulence.
The character is appropriately overbearing, but lacks flair. However,
Kline's turn as Vince, McCain's whacked-out son, is much more rewarding.
Kline struts, preens, and lurches as Vince pursues his idiotic schemes.
While his performance fails to hit the manic peak he reached in "Wanda,"
his entertaining work here shows he hasn't lost his wonderful comic edge.
The center of "Fierce Creatures" is, of course, the magnificent John
Cleese. As Rollo Lee, he plays a variation of his classic Basil Fawlty
character. Lee wants to be wicked, he tries to be wicked, but underneath
it all he's a softy. Cleese sputters better than anybody, and he provides
some of the film's biggest laughs.
"Fierce Creatures" isn't a sequel to "A Fish Called Wanda," although,
late in the film, there is a very funny one-word nod to the earlier movie.
Because of the huge critical and financial success of "Wanda," it's easy
to go into the theater with unreasonably high expectations. However, if
you enter the theater with an open mind and just relax, you're in for
some real fun. "Fierce Creatures" may lack bite, but it's still a bloody
Copyright © 1997 Edward Johnson-Ott