- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

Don't believe the marketing hype "Kangaroo Jack" isn't an uproarious romp Down Under with a rapping marsupial.

The title character is more plot device than comic foil in this leaden feature co-written by ex-Elizabeth Hurley flame Steve Bing. The quasi-animated "Jack" only talks during a dream sequence and over the closing credits.

Even the movie poster is misleading, painting Jack as a sly hipster bursting with personality. The film actually involves a pair of bumbling Brooklynites trying to stay one step ahead of the mob. Jack flits in and out of the action seemingly unaware of the forces around him.

What's worse is that "Kangaroo Jack" seems all wrong for a children's movie. Would parents want their children to suffer through a clumsy Mafia caper with a dash of excrement humor?

Had the title character talked or even rapped a bit more, it might have been enough to engage the kiddie set.

Conversation isn't lacking between the film's stars, Jerry O'Connell and Anthony Anderson. They talk more than a pair of teenage girls the day after the prom. Did their agents land them deals that paid by the syllable?

Lifelong chums Charlie (Mr. O'Connell) and Louis (Mr. Anderson) met on Memorial Day 1982, when Louis saved Charlie from drowning. The gregarious Louis has no qualms about bringing up his heroism whenever he needs to curry Charlie's favor or sympathy.

Flash forward to the present. Charlie works as a hairstylist in a salon paid for by his Mafioso stepfather, Sal, played with a take-it-or-leave-it Italian accent by Christopher Walken. Louis prefers get-rich-quick schemes that trump the law, often dragging his pal Charlie along for the ride.

One such caper accidentally exposes Sal's illegal-goods ring. Enraged, Sal punishes the two by sending them to Australia to deliver a manila envelope full of cash to a "Mr. Smith."

Once Down Under, the duo rent a Jeep and accidentally run over a kangaroo. Thinking the creature is dead, they begin to play and pose with its corpse, which they dub "Jackie Legs" after a mob figure it resembles.

Ick.

The two go so far as to dress Jackie in Louis' lucky red jacket which still has the envelope stuffed in its pocket. Naturally, the creature awakens and darts off, jacket and all, setting back their rendezvous with Mr. Smith.

While the pair search for Jackie Legs, Mr. Smith and later Mr. Walken's henchmen chase after them, thinking they have run off with the loot.

The pals get a boost from a wildlife conservationist, a transplanted American played by Estella Warren. Apparently, the former synchronized swimmer is still waiting for that career bump from 2001's "Planet of the Apes" remake.

"Kangaroo Jack" stumbles out of the gate with a sloppily edited chase sequence, then unleashes the first of many bodily function gags, the most embarrassing of which involves camel flatulence.

Imagine the writing session when that pearl came to life.

Mr. Anderson ("Barbershop") keeps getting work despite an inability to rise above tepid material. Here, his constant jawing has a curious effect. He nearly bludgeons you into liking him, like a Top 40 station playing the same song over and over again until its melodies take root in your brain.

The best that can be said of Mr. O'Donnell is that he doesn't act embarrassed to be here, though he certainly should. The former child actor remember his turn as the fleshy Vern in 1986's "Stand by Me" displays the comic timing of Al Gore on the campaign trail.

What does one say about Mr. Walken's appearance here, coming so soon after another villainous turn in the milquetoast 2002 Disney vehicle "The Country Bears"? The oddball actor still gets meaty work. Witness the raves he earned for supporting work in "Catch Me if You Can." Why wallow in such muck?

His constipated vocal tics already have become the stuff of parody. Let's hope his career doesn't follow suit.

Director David McNally, whose sole directing credit till now has been 2000's "Coyote Ugly," shows precious little insight into what might pass for funny.

Audiences undoubtedly will admire the genuine Australian landscapes through the second half of "Jack," an expense that can be attributed to uberproducer Jerry Bruckheimer's name in the credits.

The producer also made sure the title character was ready for his close-up. Four actual kangaroos, plus some slick computer effects, bring Jackie Legs to life.

No amount of techno wizardry can do the same for this flat-footed "Kangaroo."


*1/2

TITLE: "Kangaroo Jack"

RATING: PG (Slapstick violence, gangster-level gunplay and excretory humor)

CREDITS: Directed by David McNally. Screenplay by Steve Bing and Scott Rosenberg.

RUNNING TIME: 84 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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