We Bought a Zoo and 21 Jump Street

St Albans & Harpenden Review: Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson in We Bought a Zoo Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson in We Bought a Zoo

Glossy Hollywood fiction slathers on the emotional syrup in We Bought A Zoo, a shamelessly sentimental tale of a father’s struggle to revitalise an ailing animal sanctuary in the aftermath of his wife’s death. Based on the inspirational memoir by Benjamin Mee, the British newspaper columnist who took charge of Dartmoor Zoological Park in 2007, Cameron Crowe’s film doesn’t miss a single opportunity to shed crocodile tears and manipulate our emotions.

Each moment of anguish is underscored by a soundtrack of soft rock and a haunting original score composed by Jonsi Birgisson from the Icelandic band Sigur Ros. Writers Crowe and Aline Brosh McKenna transplant the action from picturesque south Devon to the fictitious Rosemoor Wildlife Park in California, where mourning, guilt and father-son bonding play out against the backdrop of an inspection of the zoo’s facilities that will either shut down the attraction or guarantee its survival.

Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) is trying to be strong for his teenage son Dylan (Colin Ford) and precocious young daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) following the death of his wife Katharine (Stephanie Szostak).

“Do me a favour — attempt to start over,” tenderly advises Benjamin’s accountant brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church). So Benjamin moves his family into a ramshackle house that comes with a zoo, complete with animals and ballsy head keeper Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson).

Benjamin sinks all his money into the zoo, hoping to restore it in time for an inspection by the notoriously pernickety Walter Ferris (John Michael Higgins). Duncan is horrified but Benjamin refuses to be dissuaded, inspiring boozy handyman MacCready (Angus Macfadyen), animal handler Robin (Patrick Fugit) and Kelly’s teenage cousin Lily (Elle Fanning) to buy into his dream.

We Bought A Zoo is Crowe at his most mawkish and clichéed. To say the script is heavy-handed would be an understatement.

Children stare mournfully into the camera; parents salve wounds with trite platitudes; a father stumbles upon a cash windfall; and an ageing tiger prepares to make a final journey to the great jungle in the sky. The film’s trump card is Damon, who delivers a moving performance as a man haunted by memories of the past. He shares pleasing screen chemistry with youngsters Ford and Jones, and Church provides the comic relief.

While it might falter as a compelling drama, We Bought A Zoo may boost visitor numbers to Dartmoor Zoological Park, which is still on a knife-edge. That would be a real Hollywood fairytale.

Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko ( Channing Tatum) enrol at police academy and work together to ensure they complete the physical and academic elements of the final exam in 21 Jump Street. Life as cops turns out to be quite dull and their first bust ends in embarrassment. So they are sent in disgrace to Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), who orders the pair to pose as sibling students at the local school where drugs are rife.

Morton becomes a popular student thanks to his brains and sensitivity while lumbering hunk Greg is viewed as an idiot by everyone except his teacher Ms Griggs (Ellie Kemper), who would love to give him some one-on-one tuition. While Morton engages in a tender romance with drama student Molly (Brie Larson), the cops identify fellow student Eric Molson (Dave Franco) as the dealer and work to bring down the drugs ring.

21 Jump Street is a treat, mining laughs from the camaraderie between Tatum and Hill, the latter suffering a knife wound and squealing: “When did I get stabbed? That’s awesome!” Every set piece is brilliantly bonkers, occasionally veering into gross-out humour but never sacrificing our affection for the characters.

A car chase in a stretched limousine on prom night is hysterical, as Greg rebuffs the advances of one amorous girl to catch the bad guys. Depp does indeed cameo as Officer Tom Hans from the original show at a vital juncture, giving his seal of approval to Lord and Miller’s madcap reboot.

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