John Cleese is a fierce creature. He was the pioneer of boundary-pushing comedy for decades. Between his work with Monty Python or his solo ventures with Fawlty Towers, A Fish Called Wanda and Clockwise, there is much to love about the lanky lad. His golden touch would not last, for the sparks that shine bright often burn the fastest. He did well to last forty years without so much as a major blemish on his record. His working credits enlist a tremendous collation of classic cinematic endeavours, cult classics and a variety of comedies we now consider to be the cream of the crop. There is also Fierce Creatures, a dud note that, when compared to his modern-day efforts, feels as well-made as A Fish Called Wanda.
Still, it is not just the feel of A Fish Called Wanda captured here, but the story, style, characters and just about everything else. The line of reasoning is understandable. A Fish Called Wanda was a phenomenal piece of entertainment that weaselled its way into the awards hullaballoo. It nabbed Academy Awards, crafted surprise chemistry between Kevin Kline, Michael Palin, Jamie Lee Curtis and Cleese, and, on the whole, is a resounding piece of film. Why not try and recapture that? Clunky ties to the first of their efforts aside, Fierce Creatures takes place far away from the backstabbing antics that preceded it, following vaguely reminiscent characters scheming and scandalizing in a zoo.
That is the problem Fierce Creatures inherits. It ties these performers to the aroma their previous work together offered. Rather than pushing for a new sight and sound, they riff on the old habits they picked up in previous endeavours. Surely, there is nothing wrong with that. Not at all, and while Fierce Creatures does have a handful of hilarious pockets, it can never separate itself from the idea that it is the younger brother of an already established bit of entertainment. Less is more. Where A Fish Called Wanda had manic scenes of pure joy and a writing style that proved effective and elevated its cast to new levels, Fierce Creatures treads the same ground and hopes the same inspiration will come into play. Having Palin, Kline and Curtis play the same character is an inevitability, but one that should have been avoided. Cleese is off scot-free, but that is because he has woven his humour into the angered, annoyed bloke that will scream at and fumble the simplest of misunderstandings.
Some of it does work, but the sense of story is where Fierce Creatures falls apart. Rollo Lee (Cleese) is not a particularly memorable character. He wishes to bring literal fierce creatures into the zoo, to elate the bored public. Cleese does much the same for his project here. He is not comfortable settling for something established and working, so begins to add moments of madness into a script that has no room for it. These are his fierce creatures, and they bite the hand that feeds it. Lolling around with no place to go, the screaming and imposing anger Cleese can bring to the screen feels wasted here, despite a handful of moments that do allow the audience to reminisce of the previous work he offered. Still, why reminisce when that work is still available?