Kangaroo Jack
review by Dan Lybarger, 17 January 2003

My four-year-old nephew can write his own name. This puts him several steps above the folks who wrote the screenplay for Kangaroo Jack.

Some of the dialogue in this latest entry from high-concept mastermind Jerry Bruckheimer (who occasionally slips up and produces watchable movies like Black Hawk Down and Remember the Titans) really does sound like the kind of bizarre non-sequiturs that kids frequently utter. During one allegedly emotionally charged scene in Kangaroo Jack, Anthony Anderson bellows, "If you’re in the ocean, call Free Willy. Free Willy will set you free." English isn’t the only language that gets mangled. Director David McNally handles cinematic syntax with the same eloquence that George W. Bush demonstrates in unprepared remarks. Even my nephew knows better than to mix mob movie clichés, teen sex comedy groaners, and offensive Australian stereotypes into an unappetizing concoction that’s allegedly for kids. Flatulence gags will take you only so far
As Kangaroo Jack progresses, it’s hard to tell where the film went wrong because almost nothing goes right. Jerry O’Connell stars as Charlie, a New York hairdresser who’s under the thumb of his mobster stepfather (an understandably indifferent Christopher Walken). Casting O’Connell in anything role is a major mistake from the beginning. He was likable as a tubby little kid in Stand by Me. But now that he’s a slimmed down, buff adult, he has no discernable personality. Like Ricki Lake before him, he lost what ever made him interesting when he shed the pounds. As for his taste in roles (the critical and box office duds Tomcats and Buying the Cow), the trend continues.

The older man has put up money for Charlie’s shop and would probably rather whack the lad instead of claim him. If Charlie’s family life is unfortunate, his taste in friends is appalling and potentially fatal. Louis (Anthony Anderson, at his loudest and most irritating) once saved Charlie’s life and now drags the schlub along with him on several dubious "business" opportunities. One in particular leads to a high-speed chase that attracts the cops to Charlie’s stepfather. This might have been fun if McNally knew how to stage action scenes like Bruckheimer regular director Tony Scott does. Instead, all we get is quick cutting and Anderson’ loud shrieking. In real life, Charlie and Louis would be dead instantly because of their offense, putting us out of their misery. Sadly, this is Hollywood, so the lads are sent to rural Australia on an improbable mission to deliver a mysterious package to a "Mr. Smith." Being that Charlie and Louis are the dumbest creatures on two legs, they open the parcel to discover $50,000 (I suppose wiseguys have never heard of Federal Express). You can tell a movie is falling apart when the logic problems start leaping out at you like a stampede of feisty kangaroos. Speaking of the marsupials, the boys lose the money on the way to the drop point when Charlie hits a kangaroo and Louis places his jacket, containing the package, on the roo. The beast hops off, leaving the Louis and Charlie in a rugged land where all the men drink like Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas and dress like Crocodile Dundee.

While Kangaroo Jack was shot entirely Down Under (even the cheesy "New York" scenes), McNally and screenwriters Steve Bing and Scott Rosenberg make little effort to capitalize on the locale. We don’t learn anything about the country that we haven’t seen on Crocodile Hunter. At times, the only way we get to know the film is really set in Australia is from the musical cues (yep, you get to hear that Men at Work song one more time).  Many of the animal scenes look as if they’d been taken from outtakes of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. You’d think a producer with Bruckheimer’s vast resources could find stock footage that didn’t look so worn. When Charlie and Louis find themselves surrounded by dingoes, we never almost see the guys or the wild dogs in the same shot. It’s almost like watching the 60’s Tarzan TV-series where real African footage was clumsily grafted into the Hollywood-shot story.

Maybe sensing that the narrative and the setting were unclear, the filmmakers added an expatriate American naturalist played by Estella Warren from Driven. If O’Connell and Anderson have all the comic instincts of Leopold and Loeb, Warren adds a factor that makes Kangaroo Jack questionable fare for children. It’s easy to see why she was cast. She has a face that resembles a statue of a Greek goddess. It’s too bad that her visage is almost as expressive. Since acting isn’t Warren’s strong suit, the filmmakers make her the butt of a couple of demeaning sequences: one where O’Connell gropes her bosom and another where she, wearing a flimsy halter-top, showers under a waterfall.

As for the computer-generated kangaroo who dominates the trailers for Kangaroo Jack, he’s smarter and more entertaining than any of the humans in front of or behind the camera. While he might not be consistently convincing as a roo (his resemblance to Joe Camel is uncanny), he at least appears biological (unlike the cast) and gets a few intentional laughs. The rapping sequence in the previews is sadly just a dream sequence. But at the end, he complains that he wasn’t given enough screen time. He’s right.

Directed by:
David McNally

Jerry O'Connell
Anthony Anderson
Estella Warren
Christopher Walken
Dyan Cannon
Michael Shannon
Marton Csokas
David Ngoombujarra

Written by:
Steve Bing
Scott Rosenberg

R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult







www.nitrateonline.com  Copyright © 1996-2005 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.