A bland furry-animal pic aimed at small-fry and kids in their early teens, “Joey” is a formulaic adventure in which a farm boy ventures into the big city searching for the kidnapped parents of a baby kangaroo. Given a big boost in Oz by distrib Roadshow, pic is up against formidable holiday fare, and a larger than usual number of moppet pics, and posted very poor figures its opening weekend. With one eye firmly on the Yank market, the producers have contrived to have their young hero team up with a feisty American girl his own age, which may give “Joey” some Stateside exposure, especially in ancillary markets. Children will accept these plot contrivances more readily than adults.
The adventure begins on a lushly idealized farm in Queensland where inventive, self reliant Billy (Jamie Croft) lives with his widowed mother, Penny (Rebecca Gibney). His favorite pastime is observing a group of kangaroos, and especially baby Joey, but unfortunately the creatures hang out not on his mom’s farm but on that of brutal, roo hating neighbor Dixon (Errol O’Neill). Enter the sinister Kanga Catcher (Harold Hopkins), a leather garbed hunter from hell who seems to have strayed in from a “Mad Max” pic, and who is hired by Dixon to remove the roos, which are drugged and carted off to Sydney and an uncertain fate — all except little Joey, who’s left behind and is likely to expire without his mother’s TLC.
So Billy puts Joey into his backpack and heads off for the threatening city, where he soon meets Linda (Alex McKenna), the rebellious daughter of the newly appointed U.S. ambassador (Ed Begley Jr.) The two youngsters team up to find the kidnapped kangaroos and reunite Joey with his parents, unwittingly causing a diplomatic incident as the fuzz go frantic trying to locate the Yank envoy’s little girl.
The simple plot has been augmented with a plethora of marginal characters, most of whom are presented as gross caricatures. Some talented thesps are encouraged to mug for the camera, and are often photographed from odd angles and with distorting lenses. The result may scare some of the younger members of the audience (Kanga Catcher and his brutal buddy are quite horrific figures) and aggravate older ones.
Young Croft, who made an impact in “That Eye the Sky” a couple of years ago, is energetic as the hero and is adequately supported by McKenna. Of the adult characters, Gibney is extremely sympathetic as the boy’s mom, and Ruth Cracknell amusing as an intrepid animal rights activist. Most others, however, are vanquished by the larger than life dictates of the production.
Biggest disappointment of the pic is the fact that Joey himself is extremely dull. Forced into a confined space almost throughout the film, the creature, whether a real life roo or an animatronic one, is not very cuddly or expressive, except when seen in the wild in his mother’s pouch.
Director Ian Barry is capable of better things (his 1980 pic, “The Chain Reaction,” was a taut thriller). The decision to go for caricature rather than depict the adventures of Billy, Linda and Joey in a recognizable world diminishes the appeal of the picture.
Technical credits are solid, though Aussie auds may be puzzled by some of the geographic inaccuracies, which include the streets of Brisbane doubling for those of Sydney.