John Cleese is to British comedy as Elvis Presley is to rock n’ roll. Along with the rest of his Monty Python crew, Cleese has become the face of contemporary British humor. No comedian has displayed the mix of physical humor mixed with deadpan wit as successfully as the Monty Python gang. During my younger years in the late 80s, I got introduced to A Fish Called Wanda, which became and still remains one of my all-time favorite comedies. It was the first time I got to see John Cleese and Michael Palin (one of the members of Monty Python) and I instantly got hooked on their brand of comedy. When it was announced 10 years later that there would be a sort of sequel to Wanda, I could not wait to see it. For years there had been talk of doing a sequel to Wanda and finally it was going to happen. Well, although I still managed to enjoy Fierce Creatures, the sequel that came to be, it somehow lacked the originality and playfulness of A Fish Called Wanda.

Fierce Creatures takes the same actors from A Fish Called Wanda and puts them into different characters who possess the same characteristics as the characters from Wanda. Kevin Kline plays dual roles here as a Rupert Murdoch-type mogul and his spoiled, idiotic son who’s waiting for his dad to croak so he can inherit everything. Jamie Lee Curtis is an ambitious and smart businesswoman who gets hired by the Murdoch character to run a recently acquired zoo and make it profitable. John Cleese is one of the Murdoch character’s employees who has been assigned to run the zoo, but he’s not very good at it and he’s constantly misunderstood for totally harmless actions that are perceived differently by everyone else. Michael Palin plays one of the zookeepers who’s as weird and eccentric as his character in Wanda. Again, all of these characters have the same characteristics as the characters the actors played in Wanda. At the center of all this is a zoo in England that the Murdoch character has purchased. The zoo is not profitable and its going to be shut down unless John Cleese and Jamie Lee Curtis can find a way to make it very profitable in a very short amount of time.

The plot is nowhere as interesting as A Fish Called Wanda, which involved an elaborate heist set in London. A story about an unprofitable zoo is a hard sell and only a comic genius and great writer like John Cleese can shape that into something that can work. However, I felt that even this premise was a little more than what John Cleese could chew on. The jokes don’t have the originality and zany hilarity that Wanda had. Furthermore, the stakes involved in saving a zoo just don’t seem as high as trying to steal a jewel and getting away with it. In addition, other than Kevin Kline’s character, the rest of the cast seemed to play watered-down versions of their Wanda counterparts. Cleese could have pushed the envelope, but instead tones everything down (NOTE: this was a PG-13 movie whereas Wanda was an R). Finally, the wonderful chemistry between Jamie Lee Curtis and John Cleese in Wanda is entirely missing here. In Wanda, not only were you curious as to whether a lawyer and a jewel thief would get together, but the unlikelihood of them getting together made you want to see them hook up. Here, the two of them falling in love is not as far-fetched because they both work for the same company and they pretty much do the same thing by running a zoo.

If there’s one reason to watch Fierce Creatures, it would be to watch Kevin Kline excel at playing two roles. Its even arguable that he outdoes himself here as compared to his Oscar-winning performance in Wanda. Kline is completely manic and completely stupid, which makes him a walking timebomb. A particularly great scene is towards the end of the film (SPOILER ALERT) when he has to impersonate his dead father so he can get the cops off his back and get his father’s will changed so he can inherit his father’s fortune. Not only is this scene pure comic gold, but its one of Kline’s best performances. Another fine performance is the one given by Michael Palin as one of the zookeepers. He’s not as funny and interesting as he was in Wanda where he played the stuttering hitman, but he’s fun to watch nonetheless. There is a great scene in this movie where he’s hiding in a hotel room closet spying on Kevin Kline and his pet tarantula escapes.

Fierce Creatures is not a bad movie and it was a film I enjoyed much more when I first saw it in theaters back in 1998. Unfortunately, the movie has not aged well over the years and it feels a lot more dated (I don’t know if its the look of the film or the cheesy Jerry Goldsmith score or both, but the film feels like it was made a long time before 1998). If you’re unfamiliar with John Cleese’s work and you have an interest in seeing it, this is NOT the film to start with. However, if you have seen everything he does, then you might want to check this out if you haven’t already.

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