The rescue of 25 African lions from traveling circuses in Bolivia is breathlessly detailed by participants doubling as filmmakers in “Lion Ark,” a miscalculation of manufactured suspense in the increasingly crowded field of docu-thrillers. Puzzling approach feels forced upon a story lacking any dramatic twists or turns, suggesting Animal Defenders Intl. founders Jan Creamer and Tim Phillips (also the project’s filmmakers and main subjects) shot first and forgot to ask the necessary questions later. A heartwarming denouement may help word of mouth among animal-rights activists, but the pic otherwise lacks the broad appeal to break out.
After ADI’s undercover investigations reveal widespread abuse and spur Bolivia’s 2009 ban on circus animals, Creamer and Phillips head a small team to round up the nation’s captive lions and relocate them to a Colorado sanctuary. But the ominous talk of the potential risks in confronting angry circus owners and transporting malnourished animals loses credibility when the actual rescue operations elicit nothing more dangerous than a heated argument or two. Overlong film quickly becomes tedious whenever the camera strays from the lions, who don’t have much personality but prove more compelling than the humans.