Charlie (Jerry O'Connell, "Crossing Jordan") is a hairstylist who finds himself in continuous debt to his bumbling friend Louis (Anthony Anderson, "Barbershop"), who saved him from drowning when he was 8 years old. When one of Louis' harebrained schemes gets the two into hot water, they're sent to Australia to atone for their sins by delivering $50,000 to a shady businessman. While driving to the drop-off point, the two hit a roaming kangaroo and promptly dress it up in Louis' lucky jacket for photo opportunities. When the kangaroo suddenly regains consciousness, he takes off, with the jacket still on, and the 50 grand in one of the pockets. With the help of a kangaroo tracker (Estella Warren, "Driven"), Louis and Charlie must brave the deadly outback to get their money back and restore honor to their names.
Approaching a film like "Kangaroo Jack" (IMDb listing) takes plenty of patience and good will. Produced by the Willy Wonka of craptacular cinema, Jerry Bruckheimer ("Armageddon," "Con Air," "Pearl Harbor"), "Kangaroo Jack" is one of the producer's rare forays into family filmmaking. I'm happy to report that "Jack" is a slick production -- for a kid's film at least -- and is free of the normal Bruckheimer excesses such as fire balls, and commercial-ready cinematography. Directed by David McNally, who last was seen helming another Bruckheimer disaster, "Coyote Ugly," "Kangaroo Jack" isn't nearly the tragedy its exterior suggests. It's a bad film, no doubt, but not a complete wash out.
The problems start with the unpleasant comedic delivery of co-star Anthony Anderson, who's never met a punch line he didn't completely bleed dry. A bellowing, rancid yuckster, Anderson turns up his deafening routine a couple of notches so the kids can hear him clearly. He's the clown of the piece, but never a likeable one. The next problem is that the film relies on the "fart scene" staple of family entertainment, which is now so clearly calculated that I should start making bets on its appearance in each new film. Of course, "Jack" doesn't need the flatulence, but it did result in the single largest laugh from the kids I attended this screening with. So who am I to question its validity? Finally, as with Disney's "Snow Dogs," "Jack" has based its advertising around scenes of a talking/rapping kangaroo, which appears in only two dream sequences in the entire movie. It's completely fraudulent, but also insults the terrific work the computer animators put into the kangaroo creation, as they try to merge authenticity with cartoon. The kangaroo looks wonderful, but the rapping is heartbreaking, and should clearly not be the focus of the film.
Yet, in trying to see past the useless story conceits (Italian mobsters in the Outback?), paycheck acting (Christopher Walken appears briefly as Charlie's father-in-law), and, well, critically unfunny material (almost anything with Anderson), there are brief moments of pleasure to be found. Jerry O'Connell is one of those bright spots, refraining from his usual overacting, and simply letting Anderson go nuts for a laugh. O'Connell is funnier this way, and it helps the movie to have at least one cast member who isn't yelling all the time. Also, model Estella Warren puts in a reasonable performance in the tracker role. In the long, headache-inducing pantheon of model-to-actress transitions, Warren is near the top of the heap. "Jack" doesn't offer much for her to work with, but she's a pleasant surprise in a gloriously unsurprising film.
As much as I could (or should) trash "Kangaroo Jack," there are just too many minuscule good things within the film for it to be a completely deflating experience. The kids might love it, and any chance to soak up Australian beauty is welcomed, but there just isn't enough hop in the 'roo to hold appeal for very long.
Filmfodder Grade: D+