Courtesy Photo
Directed by Robert Young and Fred Schepisi

Starring John Cleese, Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Palin & Carey Lowell.

"Fierce Creatures"

Opened: Jan. 24, 1997 | Rated: PG-13

I was a little worried about "Fierce Creatures." I'd seen the ads on television and it looked like perhaps another fast-paced farce from the cast of "A Fish Called Wanda" might not have been such a good idea after all.

I should have known better.

With another story of slapstick greed and sexual pursuits co-written by John Cleese, who has never failed to make my gut hurt from laughing, "Fierce Creatures" re-unites Cleese, Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Palin for no other reason than they had a great time making "Wanda" in 1988.

This time the story is of a weasely Australian media magnate, Rod McCain (Kline), who buys a zoo in England, puts the zoo keepers in critter costumes and demands an immediate 20 percent increase in the bottom line.

Cleese is a coward of a corporate loon left in charge of the zoo, whose plan to draw customers by displaying only dangerous animals has the employees in revolt.

After failing to convince the new boss that lemurs and aardvarks really are lethal killers, the keepers -- lead by insect specialist Bugsy Malone (Palin) and big cat expert Cub Feline (Carey Lowell, "License to Kill") -- bring to Cleese all the cute and cuddly animals and tell him he will have to dispose of them himself. To appear tough and bolster his lagging authority he pretends to shoot the sweet critters, but instead takes them home to hide them in his apartment.

Now enter sexpot corporate climber Willa (Curtis) and McCain's embezzling estranged son Vince (also played by Kline), who have been sent to clean up after Cleese fails to turn a profit.

The next hour is a near-constant barrage of howling low-brow humor. From boob jokes to sheep being found in beds, "Fierce Creatures" is a blatant assault of wildly indelicate comedy and the cast is clearly loving every minute of it.

Cleese's script is loosely stitched together with some ineffective moments of compassion, but it never goes more than a few minutes without something quite rude and painfully funny.

The best scene in the film has Cleese, Palin and Lowell hiding in the closet of a hotel room listening to the two Kevin Klines planning to close the zoo. One of Palin's tarantulas gets loose and the trio of zoo keepers tear off their clothes in a panicked search for the spider while still trying to keep quiet.

The two Kevins leave and the zoo staffers jump out of the closet in their skivvies just in time for Curtis to arrive and get the completely wrong idea.

This is on top of a running gag, involving the animals Cleese is hiding all having female names, that already has him looking like a sex maniac. "How does he get three girls?" Kline asks rhetorically during a phone call in which Cleese is trying to hush the animals on his end of the line. "Where does the third one go?"

Kline won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for "A Fish Called Wanda," and he shows the same comedic gusto and immersion in character in his dual roles here. He plays the father and son McCain so vastly dissimilar that even when they were on the screen together (with absolutely seamless effects) I only occasionally remembered I was looking at the same actor twice.

Co-directed by Englishman Robert Young and Fred Schepisi ("IQ," "Roxanne"), "Fierce Creatures" plays like what I call a 1960s speed comedy. Throughout the movie everything get faster and sillier, faster and sillier until the last scene comes on like a wrestling match between the Marx Brothers and the Stooges.

If Cleese can keep banging out stuff this funny 30 years after "Monty Python," this duet of movies could become a very successful franchise.

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