Dir: David McNally. US. 2002. 86 mins.
Jerry Bruckheimer's first stab at younger-skewing family fare is a mishmash of an action comedy with buddy bonding, chase sequences and eye candy for the adults and fart gags and a computer enhanced 'roo for the kids. Arriving in US cinemas this week after a wave of serious-minded award contenders, Kangaroo Jack might do decent domestic business, especially with rising young black actor Anthony Anderson (from surprise hit Barbershop) in the cast to broaden the potential audience. But with no real star names to promote, Warner Bros may find it tougher to sell the mix of action and no-brow humour in the international marketplace (where openings are mostly scheduled for spring and early summer), in spite of the film's picturesque Australian setting.
Bruckheimer has previously tapped the family audience with American football drama Remember The Titans, and his upcoming projects include Disney's theme park-inspired Pirates Of The Caribbean. Here, the producer surrounds himself with cohorts from some of his earlier young male-oriented action outings: David McNally (Coyote Ugly) directs and Scott Rosenberg (Gone In 60 Seconds and Con Air) wrote the script with writer-producer Steve Bing (currently appearing in the celebrity gossip press, of course, as Elizabeth Hurley's ex-boyfriend).
The story is a kind of backwards version of the Crocodile Dundee scenario. Charlie (O'Connell, from Jerry Maguire) is an easygoing young New Yorker whose stepfather is intimidating mob boss Sal Maggio (Walken). When Charlie and his eternally optimistic lifelong best friend Louis (Anderson) accidentally land Sal in trouble with the law, they are sent, as an apparent punishment, to deliver $50,000 to one of Sal's associates in Australia. Before they can make the delivery, however, the boys manage to lose the cash to a feisty kangaroo they have named after a friend back in Brooklyn. Kangaroo Jack sets off into the Outback and Charlie and Louis set off in desperate pursuit, with attractive wildlife conservationist Jessie (actress-model Warren, from Tim Burton's remake of Planet Of The Apes) as their reluctant guide.
If the plot seems unlikely, the film's patchwork of genre styles often feels even more calculated. Opening with a police pursuit through the streets of New York City (recreated for the project in Sydney), the story is punctuated by efficiently exciting car and plane chases through the landscape of the Outback as Charlie and Louis pursue Jack and are in turn pursued by Sal's henchmen. The boys' arrival in Australia gives rise to some cliché-ridden culture-clash humour and Charlie's interest in the wholesomely sexy Jessie leads to a couple of moments of cheesy flirtatiousness. Comic set pieces aimed squarely at younger kids include a farting display by a trio of camels. The adult-oriented humour isn't much more sophisticated: O'Connell and Anderson keep up an Abbott and Costello-style double act throughout, with the energetic and physical Anderson producing the few genuine belly laughs.
Cinematographer Peter Menzies Jr (whose Oz industry colleagues on the project include actor Bill Hunter, executive producer Andrew Mason and production designer George Liddle) delivers some attractive footage of the film's Outback locations.
Kangaroo Jack himself appears fairly infrequently on screen (even though his image dominates the film's US advertising campaign). To create the character, digital effects supervisor Hoyt Yeatman (another frequent Bruckheimer collaborator) added CG effects to footage of four live kangaroos. The resulting long shots and close-ups are convincing enough, but the character never develops sufficient personality to become a real presence in the story, and only talks in one brief dream sequence. A more visible, engaging roo might have given the film a better chance of emulating the international success of recent talking animal movies such as Scooby Doo, Stuart Little 2 and Cats And Dogs.
Prod cos: Castle Rock Entertainment
US dist: Warner Bros
Exec prods: Mike Stenson, Chad Oman, Barry Waldman, Andrew Mason
Prod: Jerry Bruckheimer
Scr: Steve Bing, Scott Rosenberg
Cinematography: Peter Menzies Jr
Prod des: George Liddle
Eds: John Murray, William Goldenberg
Music: Trevor Rabin
Main cast: Jerry O'Connell, Anthony Anderson, Estella Warren, Michael Shannon, Christopher Walken