Perhaps Jerry O’Connell should consider getting a new agent. Under his current management the poor fellow seems fated to appear in vehicles that violate W.C. Fields’ wise advice against working with animals or children. Back in 1996 he was paired with a small army of singing-and- dancing cockroaches in “Joe’s Apartment.” It was actually a much more amusing little movie than people credited, but it did virtually no business, and O’Connell was hardly what its few viewers remember about it. Now he’s interacting with a talking marsupial in “Kangaroo Jack,” even if the titular beastie actually speaks–like the mutts in last year’s “Snow Dogs”–only in fantasy sequences, otherwise merely grunting wordless syllables and bounding about. (The trailers, incidentally, are very misleading on this score.) The 2001 “Tomcats” might also be mentioned. It didn’t involve any actual felines, of course, but its sniggering tastelessness was certainly subhuman.
As for “Jack,” it’s a weird combination of Jerry Bruckheimer action flick and cartoonish kiddie movie. It probably won’t hurt O’Connell’s career too much, being far too flimsy and formulaic a farce to linger in anybody’s memory very long. The only remotely remarkable thing about it is the odd amount of Bruckheimer-style razzmatazz it mixes in with its mixture of lame jokes, strained buddy comedy, tepid romance, flatulence humor and (curiously, given its targeted young audience) sexual innuendo: there are actually two car chases in the first thirty minutes, shortly followed by an airplane crash and, toward the close, some really nasty fight scenes. In terms of its less violent side, even urchins will foresee every gag and supposed plot twist; adults would, too, but they’ll probably be dozing off instead. As for the violent material, it’s inappropriate for the kiddies but will strike oldsters as very ho-hum.
The set-up is certainly simple enough. Charlie Carbone (O’Connell), the hairdresser stepson of a NYC mob boss Sal Maggio (Christopher Walken), messes up one of his surrogate father’s operations while aiding his accident-prone best buddy Louis Booker (Anthony Anderson). To atone, the guys are assigned to take a parcel of money to a drop in Australia. Along the way, though–we’ll skip the convolutions involved–Louis’ jacket, along with the money in its pocket, winds up on a kangaroo, and so they have to track down the animal in the outback to retrieve the loot; they’re assisted in the chase by a drunkard pilot called Blue (Bill Hunter) and Jessie (Estelle Warren), a beautiful wildlife refuge worker. Meanwhile they’re being tracked by some bad guys, led by Sal’s scowling enforcer Frankie (Michael Shannon)–why is no big surprise, but we’ll not reveal it here.
The result is supposed to be a sort of cross between one of the old Crosby-Hope “Road” movies and a live-action Road Runner cartoon. But it fails on both counts. First, O’Connell and Andrews do not a classic comedy team make. O’Connell seems an affable enough fellow, but even at his best moments he doesn’t come across as much more than a less smarmy version of Steve Guttenberg, who himself was little better than a 1990s replica of Bob Cummings. These are not names to conjure with. As the lovable lug of the duo, Andrews mugs frantically, no doubt to camouflage the weakness of the jokes; but most of his riffs fall flat. And Warren is a pallid stand-in for Dorothy Lamour. Walken is wasted, too; luckily for him, more viewers will see him in “Catch Me If You Can.” Then there’s the kangaroo. In terms of special effects, Jack’s certainly good enough, even if his facial expressions and moans make him seem, rather scarily, like a Scooby Doo who hops; undemanding tykes will likely find him a hoot. But even they will probably feel that Jack grows tiresome over the long haul. The genius of the Road Runner cartoons was that they only ran five minutes or so, and Wile E. Coyote was mutely hilarious in his humiliation. “Jack” runs a full hour-and-a-half, and his pursuers jabber on all too much, to far too little effect.
There’s a line in “Kangaroo Jack” that sums the movie up nicely, even if it’s a little misplaced. It comes about half-way in, when Charlie observes, as a wind-storm is brewing, “I think something bad is about to happen here, Louis.” If that snippet of dialogue were moved up to the front, it would be prescient; as it is, it’s merely accurate.