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"KANGAROO JACK"
(2003) (Jerry O'Connell, Anthony Anderson) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: Two men try to capture a wild kangaroo that's carrying the mob money they're supposed to deliver to a thug in Australia.
PLOT:
Charlie Carbone (JERRY O'CONNELL) and Louis Fucci (ANTHONY ANDERSON) have been best friends ever since Louis saved Charlie's life some 20 years ago. Since then, Charlie's stepfather, Sal Maggio (CHRISTOPHER WALKEN), has set him up with his own beauty salon, while Louis can't seem to find a legit job. His latest "employment" -- delivering stolen TVs in a stolen truck - inadvertently leads the police to Sal's warehouse of stolen goods.

Sal obviously isn't pleased and thus gives the two one last chance to prove their worth. They're to travel to Australia and deliver a package to Mr. Smith (MARTON CSOKAS). Once there and after discovering that it contains fifty-grand, they accidentally hit and believe they've killed a kangaroo. Louis then thinks it would be funny to dress it up like a Brooklyn mobster they know, including the use of his lucky jacket.

It turns out to be rather unlucky as the kangaroo isn't dead and has now hopped off with the money that's in the jacket. Realizing they're in big trouble if they don't get it back, they enlist the aid of crusty bush pilot Blue (BILL HUNTER) as well as Jessie (ESTELLA WARREN) from the Outback Wildlife Foundation to help them find the kangaroo.

Meanwhile, upon hearing that they've lost the money, Sal sends his protégé, Frankie (MICHAEL SHANNON), down under to make sure everything is executed as planned, just as Mr. Smith similarly sets out to find them. With two sets of mobsters after them, Charlie and Louis try to catch the kangaroo and retrieve the money before it's too late.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Considering the continuously increasing success and public attention paid to Aussie "exports" such as Mel Gibson, Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts, it was only a matter of time before Australia's best known mascot, the kangaroo, landed a leading role in a Hollywood film.

Okay, "leading role" might be misleading. Then again, so are the ads for "Kangaroo Jack," the latest animal-related kids comedy from, of all people, producer Jerry Bruckheimer ("Pearl Harbor," "Armageddon"). Much like the trailers and commercials for 2002's early surprise hit, "Snow Dogs," the ones for this film feature action, comedy and some roos that are definitely anthropoidal.

For better or worse, all of the talking, dancing and singing occurs during a hallucination, as was the case in "SD." In addition, the kangaroo in question - while given some slight human reactions and expressions - is really just a mega-hopping complication for the film's bumbling protagonists. You see, the mob money they're supposed to deliver to an Australian thug ends up in a jacket that's being worn by the titular subject that hops off through the Outback.

What's that? Yes, I used the term mob and kangaroo in regards to explaining the plot of a kids film. Of course, villains have near always been in such films (think of "Home Alone"), but they usually aren't intent on killing or threatening the main characters with knives or guns. I suppose that's the Bruckheimer "touch," but many parents might be surprised to see such content in a purported "family film."

Granted, director David McNally ("Coyote Ugly") and screenwriters Steve Bing ("Missing in Action 2: The Beginning") and Scott Rosenberg ("Impostor," "Gone in 60 Seconds") have included the usual array of material - including the obligatory scatological humor - to play to and appease the kids. I'm sure some will groove on that as well as the slapstick style action and adventure.

Anyway, as the main characters - played by Jerry O'Connell ("Tomcats," "Body Shots") and Anthony Anderson ("Barbershop," "Two Can Play That Game") - pursue the roo that's wearing the expensive jacket, the mob figures pursue them. It's not hard to see the potential "Home Alone" style antics that could flow from such a setup, but the filmmakers don't do much beyond the predictable and low-brow with that.

Nor do they do enough in evoking or paying homage to the old Looney Tunes cartoons featuring Sylvester the Cat and the young boxing kangaroo (that he always thought was a huge mouse) or Road Runner & Coyote material (where the pursued always manages to avoid or outwit the attempts of the pursuer).

Anderson certainly doesn't hold back in playing the zany, dimwitted and over-reactive sidekick, and does manage to generate a few slightly funny moments (when not otherwise grating on one's nerves). O'Connell, playing the straight man to Anderson, is as bland as ever, and the comedic chemistry between them never feels right.

The familiar plot - where two bumbling types are given one last chance to prove their worth and do a job right - runs them through the standard array of comedic complications. Some are mildly amusing or passable, but others fall flat.

Continuing to prove that you just never know in what film he'll next appear, Christopher Walken ("The Country Bears," "Sleepy Hollow") shows up playing the Mafioso. Unfortunately, he's pretty much wasted in the part (although the sight and sound of his voice coming from a roo during the aforementioned hallucination is amusing to behold).

Marton Csokas ("XXX," "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring") and Michael Shannon ("8 Mile," "High Crimes") are instantly forgettable, one-dimensional villains, while Estella Warren ("Planet of the Apes," "Driven") fills out (and then some) the obligatory female character part. As far as the titular subject, he's a combo of the real thing plus special effects. For the most part, it's pretty much seamless and actually creates the most interesting character in the whole film (and that's not saying much).

It's hard to say if the film would have been better if "Jack" had lived up to the trailer-based expectations and talked in live-action cartoon form. Whatever the case and despite the perilous moments, most kids will probably enjoy all or at least parts of the offering. Adults, on the other hand, probably won't be as numerous falling into that acceptance category.

Not as abominable or excruciating as I feared it would be, but certainly nothing great, let alone classic, "Kangaroo Jack" will probably hop all over the kids box office until something better and/or more interesting comes along to bounce it off the cinematic throne. The film rates as just a 3 out of 10.




Reviewed December 30, 2002 / Posted January 17, 2003


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