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(2002) (Steve Irwin, Terri Irwin) (PG)

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Comedy/Action/Adventure: Married wildlife crusaders mistake undercover CIA agents for poachers and try to save a crocodile that the feds want for the top-secret device it's swallowed.
A top-secret government satellite has exploded and sent an important surveillance device plummeting toward Australia where it lands and is swallowed by a crocodile. With its one million photos inside having the potential of changing the power structure of the modern world should they fall into the wrong hands, the CIA sends agents Bob Wheeler (LACHY HULME) and Vaughan Archer (KENNETH RANSOM) to the outback to retrieve it as covertly as possible.

Little do they know that their local contact, Jo Buckley (KATE BEAHAN), is really an agent working for the National Reconnaissance Office who's been sent by Deputy Director Harley Ansell (STEVE VIDLER) to act as if she's assisting them in order to seize the device.

Little do any of them realize the difficulties they'll face in finding the croc. Beyond its elusive nature, there's local ornery cattle farmer Brozzie Drewett (MAGDA SZUBANSKI) who only hates trespassers more than she does crocs, and wildlife ranger Sam Flynn (DAVID WENHAM) who tries to keep her in check.

Then there's Steve and Terri Irwin (STEVE & TERRI IRWIN), a married couple dedicated to promoting and saving the natural wildlife of their homeland. When the Irwins assume that the government agents are really poachers after the local croc that's been annoying Brozzie, they set out to capture, transport and then release it far away from danger.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
In keeping with the old chicken and egg analogy, it's often difficult with movies to determine if character comes first and hatches the plot or vice-versa. In terms of the Crocodile Hunter, a.k.a. Aussie Steve Irwin, it's easy to ascertain that the reptilians preceded the human by, oh, several hundred million years and begot his cottage industry that includes conservation efforts as well as his TV show on cable's Animal Planet channel.

When it comes to Mr. Irwin's big screen debut, "The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course," it's hard to say how all of it came together or what the initial idea was for it. Whatever and whenever the case, it wasn't a wise place or time simply because it turns out to have been a lousy idea (at least from making a decent moviegoing experience), and the results are anything but good.

Half Animal Planet TV show, half lame comedy, the film is a bizarre hybrid that never should have made it to the big screen, at least not in its current form. Shot in two distinct aspect ratios - one in traditional widescreen format and the other approaching that of a standard TV episode, the film begins, of all unlikely places, in outer space where a government satellite breaks up, sending a top secret device plummeting to Earth and eventually down a croc's gullet.

Poorly written, one-dimensional characters - from the pen of screenwriter Holly Goldberg Sloan (co-writer of "Whispers: An Elephant's Tale" and "Angels in the Outfield") -- then attempt to track down the crocodilian, all while dealing with several locals and their varied agendas. Even taking into consideration the film's target audience (of young viewers and fans of the TV show), this part of the film is incredibly lame and forced, with few of the attempts at humor managing to work.

From a movie standpoint, however, at least it has a semblance of a traditional plot as compared to the other half of what's offered. Namely, that's just Steve Irwin and his wife Terri doing what they regularly do on their TV show. Accordingly, we see them finding, handling and describing various types of critters exactly as they do on the small screen, even with their usual, tacked-on voice over narration.

While some of those close encounters with poisonous snakes, spiders and the big crocs are suspenseful in the same sort of "Oh my gosh he's going to die" fashion as typically occurs on the small screen, it doesn't deserve a place on the big one. That's especially true with the unnecessary and unsuccessful inclusion of canned suspense music and corny, "Oh no, Terri can't start the boat" moments into the usual proceedings.

It's not until the third act that the two stories finally connect with the Irwins believing the government agents in search of the top-secret device to be poachers. Even so, the combination - helmed by director John Stainton (making his feature film debut after directing and producing all of the "Croc Hunter" episodes) -- isn't any more successful. In fact, the press kit states that Irwin (who briefly appeared as himself in "Dr. Dolittle 2") never saw much in the way of a script, and it's not hard to believe that considering the results.

Although the croc hunter has a certain onscreen charisma, he's no leading man and his dramatic plot moments feel more than a bit contrived and forced when he finally has to act in conjunction with the subplot. Terri is unfortunately reduced to mainly playing the sidekick who can't get or do something in time, thus leaving Steve in the lurch.

Performances by the likes of Magda Szubanski ("Babe," "Babe: Pig in the City"), David Wenham ("Moulin Rouge," "The Bank"), Kate Beahan ("Lost Souls," "Chopper") and Lachy Hulme (the "Matrix" sequels) and Kenneth Ransom ("Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles," TV's "The Secret Life of Us"") as the two bumbling CIA agents don't fare much better, although the script doesn't give them much opportunity to do so.

Stemming from the old days of "Wild Kingdom" where Marlin Perkins stayed in the studio while Jim Fowler interacted and got down and dirty with the animals - not to mention possibly also from one Paul "Crocodile Dundee" Hogan -- Irwin's TV show is fun to watch in something of an informative, car-wreck sort of spectator fashion, and it works quite well on the small screen. Had its move to the big one just been a widescreen version of that - or even included something along the lines of "Lake Placid" where Steve would have had to deal with a 30-foot croc - things might have turned out okay.

As it stands, however, with its switching back and forth between screen ratios and the horrible, tacked-on subplot, the film simply doesn't work that well, particularly when one can see most of the same thing on TV without all of the unnecessary and unsuccessful "dramatic" and "comedy" additions. "The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course" thus rates as just a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed June 20, 2002 / Posted July 12, 2002

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