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No Magic Wanda

Eight years after A Fish Called Wanda rang up $200 million at the box office and won an Oscar for its manic villain, Kevin Kline, the cast has reunited in hopes of putting another dark charge into movie comedy.

Fierce Creatures is not a sequel but a major departure, and while it generates some yuks, neither two directors (Six Degrees of Separation's Fred Schepisi and British newcomer Robert Young) nor an entire menagerie can quite recapture Fish's subversive glee.

This time, the overheated Kline does double duty as a predatory Aussie media mogul (not Rupert Murdoch, but Rod McCain) and his jangled lecher of a son, Vince. Jamie Lee Curtis is back as Willa Weston, another scheming but good-hearted siren who reduces men to monosyllables every time she spray-paints a new dress onto her fuselage. And ex-Pythonite John Cleese, still a bundle of fidget and bewilderment, blunders through the door again as Rollo Lee, a former policeman who suddenly finds himself running a British zoo.

Kline's "Rod Almighty," chieftain of Octopus Inc., has swallowed the place whole and demanded his usual impossible profit margin. How does he propose to get it? "I want a lethal weapon in every cage," Kline snaps, noting the public taste for violence. That means, of course, that the zoo's softer, cuddlier residents must go--right now.

Bugsy (Michael Palin), the unhinged insect keeper, leads the inevitable staff rebellion to save their beloved animals, which in turn leads the movie into a frenzy of slapstick and screwball. A wayward tarantula wreaks havoc in a shuttered closet. Jamie Lee has a close encounter with a gorilla. A water closet stuffed with noisy, furry fugitives promotes the running fiction that bumbling Rollo is some kind of tireless superstud.

By the fourth reel, the big bad boss gets what's coming to him, son Vince's outrageous marketing schemes fall on their face, and the batty zookeepers manage to prevail--lemme hear you say yeah!--over the old, dark forces of corruption and commercialism.

Meanwhile, neither the breakneck pace of this 93-minute romp nor the comedians' vein-popping best efforts can conceal a threadbare concept (Cleese and Iain Johnstone wrote the script), a tatty collection of animal costumes in place of solid wit and a pretty heavy reliance on big-breast gags. Where Wanda was edged with black mirth, Creatures leans on patter and pratfalls. It's good-natured enough, and Cleese's stodgy bafflement remains a comic treasure, but for this zany cast, A Fish Called Wanda is still the trophy catch.

--Gallo

Fierce Creatures.
Screenplay by John Cleese and Iain Johnstone. Directed by Robert Young and Fred Schepisi. With John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline and Michael Palin.

 
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