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The new improved zoo: fiercer than a fish called Wanda

Fierce Creatures

Directed by Fred Schepisi and Robert M. Young.

Written by John Cleese and Iain Johnstone.

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

By Jonathan Litt
Staff Reporter

John Cleese might not be the most prolific comedian in the entertainment industry, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It took him five years to produce only 12 episodes of his hilarious 1970s TV show Fawlty Towers. Likewise, his filmmaking efforts have yielded only two movies in the past 15 years: 1988's hugely successful A Fish Called Wanda (which earned him an Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay) and now in 1997, the newly released Fierce Creatures. While the majority of recent comedy films have been getting dumb and dumber, so to speak, Cleese has wisely followed the philosophy that quality is more important than quantity.

Though not an actual sequel, Fierce Creatures is a fiercely witty and entertaining reunion of the four major players from A Fish Called Wanda (Cleese, Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Michael Palin). As with Fawlty Towers and Wanda, Creatures is a delicately orchestrated comedy of errors, with gags ranging from classic slapstick/timing routines and sexual innuendo jokes to side-splitting dark humor involving such far-out topics as blood-licking and animal executions.

Kline stars in two roles, as both Australian business mogul Rod McCain, a satirical caricature of real-life Aussie Rupert Murdoch (a man who Ted Turner has likened to Hitler on several occasions), and McCain's dopey son Vince. Father McCain barks orders at his assistants, fires people on a whim, and couldn't care the least about his inept son. Enter Willa Weston (Curtis), a shrewd, slender, and scantily clad businesswoman who is a new hiree at McCain Enterprises. She decides that she would like to manage a newly acquired zoo in England, and the lovestruck Vince decides to tag along with her.

Meanwhile, zoo manager Rollo Lee (Cleese) has already begun to take steps toward revamping the zoo to meet McCain's requirement that it yield a 20 percent annual profit return. Since crowds seem to love violence and terror, he orders that only "fierce creatures" be allowed to remain at the zoo - "a lethal weapon in every cage" becomes his mantra. Don't worry about this joke getting too old, as it's wisely used for only the first 30 minutes or so of the film. In fact, the title Fierce Creatures is probably more of an ironic reference to the humans, not the animals.

The plot mostly involves the struggle to save the zoo from becoming a golf course and a love triangle between Vince, Willa, and Rollo. The plot isn't the interesting thing here, since its only purpose is to set up the various gags. Unfortunately, there is a lot of filler to wade through between the major gags, even more so than most Cleese comedies.

But the hilarious episodes are well worth the wait. There is an uproarious running joke that Willa and Vince think Rollo is actually a virile sex addict, and the climax of the movie involves a plot twist disturbingly funny enough to rival last season's envelope-licking Seinfeld finale (a la the lack of guilt following an accidental death).

One of the very last lines of the movie includes a passing reference to A Fish Called Wanda. It's an appropriate way to end the film, tipping its hat to its successful predecessor while still being able to stand on its own.hello