American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Having worked under the proprietorship of media baron Rupert Murdoch, I was receptive to the satirical version of him presented in “Fierce Creatures,” where a Murdochian tycoon wonders if he could buy the satellite TV rights to all of the executions in China. Nor did I blink at a scene where a new employee turns up to program his station, only to learn he has sold it that very morning. At that level, corporations change hands faster than the rest of us unload used cars.
The Murdoch figure in “Fierce Creatures,” named McCain (Kevin Kline), is a blustering bully who demands that all of his properties return an annual profit of at least 20 percent. That includes a zoo he has recently acquired, more or less by accident, in England. He assigns a man named Rollo Lee (John Cleese) to run the zoo, and Lee immediately orders that it will feature only dangerous animals--since they're the best at boosting ticket sales. All other animals must be shot.
This is a funny idea, especially when filtered through the apoplectic character Cleese created on “Fawlty Towers” and essentially repeats here. Autocratic, shortsighted and hair-triggered, Rollo orders his staff to start shooting the harmless animals, and when they balk, he determines to do it himself.
The staff, a grab bag of eccentric animal lovers, unsuccessfully tries to convince him that all of the animals are dangerous. (“The meercat is known as the piranha of the desert! It can strip a corpse clean in three minutes!”) Although Rollo's executions do not proceed precisely on schedule, a greater threat to his reign is presented by the arrival of old McCain's son Vince (Kline, in a dual role) and Willa Weston (Jamie Lee Curtis), the deposed programmer. Vince desperately hopes to take over the zoo and increase its profits, in order to prove himself to his cruel and distant father. Willa wants a share of the glory, and both Vince and Rollo want a share of her generous charms, displayed in the kind of wardrobe that might result if women's business suits were designed by Frederick's of Hollywood.