Fierce Creatures (review)

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The people behind Fierce Creatures (starring John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin) refused to call it a sequel to A Fish Called Wanda — they insisted it was an “equal.” But it isn’t. Creatures is amusing, but it never approaches the deliriousness of Wanda. Creatures is surprisingly gentle behind its pseudo-nastiness — Wanda‘s hilarity was genuinely mean-spirited.
If Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner spawned a child, he would be Rod McCain (Kline), a crude, offensive billionaire who insists on a 20% return from all his holdings. So when he acquires a London zoo, the man he brings in to run it (Cleese) is feeling the pressure. His scheme: the zoo will only display fierce animals, with the hope that thrills and danger will bring in the crowds.

But here comes Vince McCain (also Kline), Rod’s equally disagreeable son. He’s got an ever better plan: corporate sponsorship. Tropicana and Guinness and Esso ads spring up all over the zoo. A tiger is draped in a banner reading “Absolut Fierce.” Bruce Springsteen sponsors a turtle. The zookeepers start sporting racing-style uniforms festooned with corporate patches. Fierce Creatures turns into a fairly biting commentary on the ubiquitousness of advertising.

But wait… In order to make its point about brand-name intrusion into everything, the movie has to bombard us with brand names. The list of companies thanked in the credits for Creatures is enormous. Major companies had their logos and names utilized in ridiculous ways (the tiger was perhaps the funniest), but those companies got exposure to an audience having a good time — that’s gotta be the best possible exposure. Not at all like the annoying product placement in most movies (the traincar-load of Apple computers Tom Cruise conveniently hung out in front of in Mission: Impossible comes to mind).

Max Headroom, the television series from the mid ’80s, made the same point even better, because it used fictional products that were easily recognizable in the real world. Zik-Zak cola was everywhere in Max’s world — it would have been simply obnoxious to see Coca-Cola logos everywhere, but Zik-Zak ads plastered on every surface eventually became funny.

So Fierce Creatures tries to have its cake and eat it, too — and it mostly succeeds. At least it fills a void until the next Monty Python movie.

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