January 27, 1997 12:00 PM

John Cleese, Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Palin

The silly season has arrived early this year with the release of Fierce Creatures, an eminently enjoyable bit of nonsense that reteams the stars of 1988’s A Fish Called Wanda. But this is no sequel. In Creatures the fab four play new characters and have a fresh plot—poppycock about the upheavals facing the staff at a staid zoo near London when a new owner tries to turn it into a crass theme park.

It takes the movie a while to get going, and even then the action is often disjointed—which may reflect this comedy’s troubled history. Creatures, cowritten by Cleese and Iain Johnstone, was originally filmed in 1995, but after it bombed at test screenings, the two men reworked the script, then reassembled the cast last summer to shoot some replacement footage under a new director (Fred Schepisi replaced Robert Young). Something must have gone right the second time out because the finished film scores a direct hit to the funny bone.

This isn’t high comedy (Palin prances through much of the movie dressed as a giant bee) or even particularly smart comedy (Curtis’s ample bust is the, er, butt of too many jokes), but it is splendidly silly and, in the dead of January, silly is enough.

Just as he did in Wanda, Kline, a gifted clown in a leading man’s body, steals the movie. He plays both the rapacious New Zealand-born, America-based billionaire who buys the zoo (Aussie Rupert Murdoch might want to consult with his libel lawyers) and the mogul’s preening dim bulb of a son. The latter is the juicier part, and Kline wrings it for every last drop. Just watch his look of genuine befuddlement when, mistakenly believing that Cleese is in bed with three women, he whines, “Where does the third go?” (PG-13)

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