Published January 1, 1997
Fierce Creatures by Robert Young and Fred Schepisi brings together again the four principal actors of A Fish Called Wanda, though not in their characters from that film. This is quite a different story—about an Antipodean tycoon presumably based on Rupert Murdoch called Rod McCain (Kevin Kline) who takes over a small zoo in England and the misadventures of a Hong Kong policeman called Rollo Lee (John Cleese), a former TV executive called Willa Weston (Jamie Lee Curtis) and the tycoon’s idiot son, Vince (also played by Kline) in trying to make the place return 20 per cent per annum on McCain’s capital, as per corporate policy. But although the story is completely different, the style is very similar, with a strong hint of Monty Python, but rather more of “Fawlty Towers” and Whitehall farce. There is not much to it, but it is very funny and that’s more than you can say for most cinematic comedies these days.
McCain known to his employees as “Rod Almighty.” The first time we see him he is congratulating himself on his latest deal—and the fact that he “snatched it from under the nose of that bastard Murdoch.” He affords a lot of the typically Cleesian humor. At one point he is pleased to hear that “Beijing called. We’ve got the rights to all their public executions.”
Rollo on his first day as the new head of the zoo gives a talk to its assembled employees. After a brief summing up of the corporate policy, he is asked: “Are you going to close the zoo?”
“I’m very glad you asked me that,” he says.
“No you’re not!” the employees shout in unison.
“Yes I am!” he insists.
“No you’re not!” they say again.
Rollo’s plan to save the zoo is to do away with all the animals except the fiercest and most deadly ones. Violence sells tickets, he says. “Mr Sylvester Stallone did not get where he is today by playing in Jane Austen.” Rollo pretends to shoot the gentle animals, but in fact takes them home as pets.
Rod McCain on the phone to Rollo: “How’s the wife and kids?” and “Wife and kids settling in all right?” To which Rollo replies that they are fine and yes they are settling in fine, until finally, unable to make any other conversation, he asks a third time. “I don’t want to seem awkward, but I’m not married and I don’t have any kids,” says Rollo.
Vince’s idea for the zoo is to sell celebrity sponsorships of all the animals. Bruce Springsteen and Steve Martin appear as sponsors, though Vince admits he hasn’t sold them on the idea yet. We do see a tiger wearing a little caparison emblazoned with “Absolut Fierce.” Vince gets an animatronic panda because he sees no difference between a zoo and a theme park.When told that the panda comes from China, he says: “This was handmade in Belgium; I don’t want some cheap Chinese panda.” Vince has no use for real animals at all. When he was a boy, he tells Willa, “My mother got me this dog. I didn’t see the point. I guess I just didn’t have anything I needed fetched.”
The climax comes with a face-off between Rod and Vince. Vince asks for “an advance on my inheritance” and Rod snorts, “What inheritance?” He’s having himself frozen so that he can be brought back to life and leaving Vince nothing. “You have to leave me something,” whines Vince. “You screwed up my whole childhood!”
“How could I?” says Rod. “I wasn’t even there.”
Vince decides to embezzle a couple of million from the company, but Rod finds out and calls the police. He arrives just ahead of them to confront Vince, who has also just had a blow when Willa reveals that she is attracted to Rollo rather than him. “Attractive!” howls Vince. “How can you touch him? Look at his suit!” When his father arrives there is a tussle with a gun and the zoo employee played by Michael Palin, called Bugsy Malone, accidentally shoots Rod McCain dead. Before the police arrive the others have to dress Vince as Rod and hide the body of the real Rod. Then Vince-as-Rod drops the charges and pretends to have had a change of heart about Vince. He signs a new will leaving the zoo to its employees and everything else to Vince. Vince almost balks when Rollo is to get Willa, but comes round immediately when Rollo tells him: “I get Willa and you get seven billion dollars.”
Then Vince-Rod pretends to be conscience stricken about the way he has treated his poor son. “I’m feeling a bit suicidal,” he says, and goes and locks himself in a shed. There is a shot and the police start banging on the door. Before they can break it down, the real Rod has been put back into his own clothes, the gun put into his hand and all the others have jumped out the window. Good comic timing. Also true of an earlier farcical bit whereon the various zoo employees, which include Ronnie Corbett and Robert Lindsay as well as Michael Palin, stage a number of what they pretend are vicious attacks on themselves by animals which are, in fact, completely docile, so that Rollo will let them keep them. He realizes what is going on and then behaves like Basil Fawlty to a woman who really has fallen and injured herself.