Cameron Crowe, six years after the disastrous “Elizabethtown,” returns to filmmaking with “We Bought a Zoo,” starring Matt Damon as a widower with two kids who turns his life around by buying a run-down zoo in the country. The source material is a memoir by British journalist Benjamin Mee, and the shift in locale from Devonshire, England, to southern California doesn’t quite work. Also a bit forced are the life lessons that Damon’s Benjamin absorbs on the road to wisdom. My favorite: communing with an aged Bengal tiger. But mostly it’s a sweet and genial comedy with a relatively low cloy factor.
Scarlett Johansson plays the head zookeeper and she’s a lot less mannered than usual. She and Damon have a graceful rapport. As Benjamin’s older brother Duncan, Thomas Haden Church is funny in a gruff, “Sideways” kind of way that makes you wish he was around more (and in more movies). Crowe, as usual, lards the soundtrack with choice oldies plus new tunes by Icelandic cult composer Jonsi. Anything to perk up that Bengal tiger, I guess. Grade: B (Rated PG for language and some thematic elements.)
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