The Animal Planet’s most popular human star makes the transition to the bigscreen without having to act at all in “Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course,” a lightweight confection that delivers exactly what it promises. While primarily chasing down a rogue croc to move it out of harm’s way, Aussie daredevil conservationist Steve Irwin and his wife, Terri, otherwise do what seems to come naturally — working at close quarters with all manner of wild animals, the more threatening looking the better — while being pursued by some silly CIA agents who think they’re international spies. MGM has a perfectly respectable kid-friendly family offering here, and all other things being equal should be able to launch it to decent theatrical returns before chomping down on a full meal in the home entertainment market.
Having appeared over the past decade in an assortment of personalized wildlife TV docu series and specials, notably “The Crocodile Hunter,” “Croc Files” and “The Crocodile Hunter Diaries,” the irrepressibly antic Irwin and his more even-keeled Yank mate are highly familiar to young tube viewers. There’s a relentless advocacy compulsion behind Irwin’s endeavors, befitting the head of the Australia Zoo wildlife reserve, which was founded by his parents, that is amped up even further by what onscreen appear to be absolute tirelessness and fearlessness, with a dash of corny humor thrown in for good measure.
Far from being hidden, the Irwins’ TV roots are freely brandished, as their adventures are presented in standard screen size and with Irwin talking direct to camera docu style, while surrounding action that does not involve the couple is shot more “cinematically” in widescreen (Irwin was reportedly never shown Holly Goldberg Sloan’s full script for the movie proper by first-time feature helmer John Stainton, who directed all of the animal rescue hero’s TV shows — better to let the blond and brawny bloke just be himself).
Looking for some kind of frame that would permit the Irwins to go about their business without requiring them to interact with other thesps until the end, Stainton and Sloan have come up with some nonsense about a U.S. satellite that crashes to Earth in Far North Queensland, where the remaining metal capsule, smaller than a football, is promptly swallowed by an imposing 12-foot croc.
Natch, the object contains top-secret info on which the future of the world depends, so the CIA dispatches two of its most bumbling and clueless agents, Wheeler (Lachy Hulme) and Vaughan (Kenneth Ransom), to retrieve it. But the croc actually has much more to fear from the loony outsized rancher Brozzie (Magda Szubanski, Mrs. Hoggett of the “Babe” films), who’s got her shotgun ready if it dares open its mouth to consume another of her cows.
The Irwins’ mission, which they readily accept: to rescue the croc and relocate it to a distant river where, as Steve Irwin likes to put it, the reptile won’t have to “come into conflict” with humans. As they drive through the sparsely populated desert and jungle regions, Steve and Terri come upon numerous animals they load onto their truck for ultimate delivery to their zoo — a large lizard, an intensely venomous snake, a mate-eating fanged spider and even a baby kangaroo in need of mothering.
Action highlight is Steve Irwin’s capture of the croc, which involves him jumping on top of the critter, straddling it like a wrestler and gradually, with his wife’s help, getting a rope around its upper jaw before muzzling it with lots more cord (cutting it free is equally precarious). The CIA boys transition from hapless to ludicrous as events progress, and even the truculent Brozzie is pacified by the Irwins’ steamroller passion for all things wild and scary looking.
Irwin’s over-the-top personality, accentuated by his broad Aussie accent, at first seems to threaten a human volcanic eruption, so hyperenthused is he for his cause and what he does. But the uniqueness of his self-appointed role in life, and the unquestionable sincerity and enthusiasm that he brings to it, ultimately prove winning.
Terri, who before meeting Steve started an animal rehab center called Cougar Country in her native Oregon, comfortably pulls her weight in their joint endeavors, but without the manic gung-ho showmanship of her hubbie.
Szubanski has fun laying on the old cowgirl’s cantankerousness, while other perfs are perfunctory at best. The Irwins aside, the animals are the show, and they have been very well cast.