We Bought A Zoo (PG)

Starring: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson

Whatever happened to Cameron Crowe? I mean the smart, Rolling Stone-contributing, Billy Wilder-worshipping director who made a few terrific movies – Say Anything (1989), Singles (1992), Almost Famous (2000) – before he got landed with Tom Cruise as a patron.

 Jerry Maguire and Vanilla Sky were the warning signs; then he hit the buffers with the awful Elizabethtown six years ago. Alas, We Bought A Zoo continues his downward trajectory into mawkishness. Matt Damon stars as Benjamin, a pudgy LA newspaperman who, six months after his wife dies, takes his two kids to live in a rambling old house with a run-down zoo attached. Here he will get to grips with bereavement, sort out his sulky teenage son and rediscover his mojo thanks to hot zookeeper Kelly (Scarlett Johansson). Crowe was always susceptible to big emotional moments, usually garlanded with cool indie rock, but he cut the schmaltz with tart comedy. Not any more: it's soppiness about animals and kids, with Sigur Ros cranking up the sentiment. It's the kind of movie where the bereaved hero will say of his lost wife, "she loved red tights and blueberry pop tarts". Pass that mop and bucket. Damon, cuddly in his chunky knits, does his best as the Great American Everydad (was Tom Hanks not available?) but the role comes bloated with hugs and healing. The film is adapted from Benjamin Mee's memoir. He bought a zoo: we got a pup.