Castor’s Underrated Gems – Fierce Creatures (1997)

For years after A Fish Called Wanda (and the Oscar-garnering exhibition for Kevin Kline), the team behind the 1988 masterstroke dawdled to craft a reunion. While Fierce Creatures isn’t roborean with a heist plotline and the flatulence sound effects are sophomoric, it is an exuberantly funny follow-up with a loopy sense of humor (ex. The high-jinx with an animatronic panda).

Sexual innuendos and double entendres are usually the most indolent forms of comedy but Monty Python alum John Cleese, with his aridly hilarious, high-strung nervousness, is a wunderkind at it. While Rollo (Cleese) is absconding with domesticated animals from a conference call, the results are impeccably riotous (“This is a zoo, not the Playboy Mansion, you pervert.”).

Kevin Kline never sputters with his character’s oafish behavior (ex. He laments that he “never saw the point in [dogs]” because he “never needed anything fetched.”). Much like ‘A Fish Called Wanda‘, Cleese slings some politically charged barbs at the American system of media gluttony and acquisitions as propagated by the fictional Octopus conglomerate (Vince (Kline) bespangles the attractions with product logos and celebrity endorsements).

The Thalian timing between the quartet is still monumentally acute but Cleese is still the superstar here probably because he was complicit in the writing alongside Iain Johnstone. The downside is an ersatz streak of sentimentality when Willa (Jamie Lee Curtis) is suddenly atwitter about her adulation for the menagerie during an epiphanic scene with an unfettered gorilla.

The one performer who is slightly diminished during the love triangle is Curtis who is more bodacious than ever but her nubile assets are almost exclusively the substance for her formerly avaricious character. We can never extrapolate why Willa with such assiduous ambition, would affiliate herself with Rod McCain (Kline again) in the first place.

Anchoring A Fish Called Wanda was the fate of pilfered jewels, jail sentences and a romantic liaison with a barrister. However, in this offering, the dissolution of the zoo and the embezzlement of funds are pendulous in the balance. Not exactly zenithal stakes by investment standards and there is subzero suspense if the pseudo-criminal Vince gallivants away with the stipend despite the presence of a pistol.

Disposal of an assassinated carcass is a shockingly mean-spirited, albeit jocose finale for the film. It’s a Grand Guignol ending that doesn’t quite seem germane after the lighthearted windup that preceded it. Nevertheless, this companion piece sneaks in some of Cleese’s finest screwball misunderstandings and it easily eclipses most late-90’s American farces. 

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