For auds unwilling or unable to grapple with the subtle nuances of “Scooby Doo,” Warners now gives us “Kangaroo Jack,” a shrill and silly farce in which a CGI marsupial seems more lifelike than most of its flesh-and-blood co-stars. Lowbrow, kid-skewing comedy likely will earn small change from small fry during brief theatrical run before hopping off to greener pastures in homevid realm.
Jerry O’Connell plays Charlie Carbone, a Brooklyn-born hairdresser who’s deeply indebted to Sal Maggio (Christopher Walken), his mob boss stepfather. As if this criminal connection weren’t problematical enough, Charlie also is recklessly loyal to Louis Booker (Anthony Anderson), a long-time friend who’s a full-time hustler.
Early on, Charlie rashly agrees to help Louis deliver a truckload of hot merchandise, thereby triggering a high-speed pursuit by dozens of NYPD squad cars. (The resulting demolition derby — involving an unseemly number of auto crashes — serves as a none-too subtle reminder that this is, after all, a Jerry Bruckheimer production.)
Charlie and Louis inadvertently lead the cops to a warehouse stocked with stolen goods. A warehouse, of course, that just happens to be operated by Charlie’s stepfather.
To punish the troublesome bumblers, Sal sends Charlie and Louis off to a remote spot in Australia to deliver a cash-stuffed envelope to a mysterious Mr. Smith (Martin Csokas). As they drive through the Outback, however, the none-too-bright heroes accidentally hit a kangaroo with their car.
Thinking the poor critter has joined the Choir Invisible, the friends pause to take pictures of themselves with the beast. Indeed, they’re such jolly jokesters, they place Louis’ “lucky jacket” on the fallen ‘roo, and snap a few more photos.
Surprise! The seemingly deceased marsupial stirs to life and hops away while still wearing the jacket. Naturally, the cash-stuffed envelope is inside one of the jacket’s pockets, which means Charlie and Louis spend the rest of the movie trying to tie that kangaroo down.
In this ensuing duel of wits, the dumb-and-dumber buddies are repeatedly outmatched. O’Connell and Anderson convey the haplessness of their characters with broad, bug-eyed performances that make one yearn for the delicate restraint of the Three Stooges. At best, they’re annoying; at worst, appalling.
Anderson’s character, a stereotypical fat black man, might have played well with Mississippi audiences in 1948, but many viewers today will be less amused.
The wacky buddies seek assistance from a beautiful wildlife specialist (Estella Warren), a grizzled bush pilot (Bill Hunter) and a guide with a secret agenda (David Ngoombujarra). Unfortunately, these supporting characters aren’t sufficiently funny or developed enough to score much impact, and the actors cast in the roles simply go through the motions.
As Sal, Walken adds yet another self-mockingly spooky/crazy role to his resume. He has a couple of comical moments — note his canny throwaway delivery of a line referring to Charlie’s beauty-school education — but he appeared more engaged in “The Country Bears.”
Working from a clumsily contrived script by Steve Bing and Scott Rosenberg, helmer David McNally (“Coyote Ugly”) underscores every piece of comic business with a enthusiasm bordering on desperation. Jokes about camel flatulence and full-cavity searches typify pic’s overall level of humor. (By the way, this is second pic of 2003 — after “Just Married” — to feature a slapsticky sequence in a jetliner lavatory. And it’s only January)
Tech values — including attractive lensing of Aussie countryside by Peter Menzies Jr. — are mostly first-rate. Thanks to the CGI wizards, title character is seamlessly inserted into live-action scenes. And creature’s quizzical expressions often are genuinely amusing. Taking its cue from a similar scene in “Snow Dogs,” pic enhances its kid appeal by including a dream sequence in which the kangaroo speaks, sings and — no kidding — breakdances.