These are the dog days of January, the poor put-upon month used by studios as a dumping ground for product considered too lethally toxic for release during those real moviegoing months--December, say, when audiences are buzzed on two weeks of vacation and award-contenders do their Oscar striptease and reveal that the true meaning of Christmas is a happy Harvey Weinstein. This week debuts a trio of movies that long ago closed in the ledgers of taste-exempt execs who found tax write-offs in the form of Martin Lawrence and Jason Lee, respective stars of National Security, which only sounds like a Jerry Bruckheimer production, and the long-suffering A Guy Thing. But the dog days have made way for the kangaroos, and were it not for the involvement of producer Bruckheimer, who has made billions by conning millions into believing they can't live without his celluloid crack, it's doubtful Kangaroo Jack would even exist.
As it stands now, the "movie" barely exists anyway: This is as low as high concept goes, as it deals with gun-toting gangsters and put-upon hit men chasing two buffoons who've somehow managed to slip a kangaroo someone else's $50,000 by dolling it up in one fellow's lucky jacket. (Just having to synopsize Kangaroo Jack is enough to force one to reconsider jumping into a more useful profession, like pornographer or experimental dancer-cum-performance artist; having to put more thought into reviewing a movie than those who made the damned thing gets just a little dispiriting after a while.) If nothing else, the premise alone will be a thing studied in universities and think tanks for years to come, alongside the likes of License to Drive and Chairman of the Board (a Carrot Top star vehicle) and the collected works of Yahoo Serious as Things That Shouldn't Be But Are.
That Kangaroo Jack, which sounds vaguely like the title of some Aussie porn I sort of recall renting several years ago after a case of Fosters, is ostensibly aimed at kids is even more unnerving. And if it isn't intended for the prepubs, then try to explain the dozens of youngsters trolling around the cineplex during a recent Saturday-morning preview screening. (If nothing else, you could hardly get irritated at the screaming and crying; twice I found myself using pages from a notepad to wipe away streaming tears of regret and self-loathing.) Its PG rating does little to drown out the sound of automatic weapons getting workouts from disowned Sopranos cutouts with spastic trigger fingers. Then, there is no such thing as a "Jerry Bruckheimer movie for kids" (a more outrageous and unbelievable phrase no one could ever type). He was already making movies, Bad Company and Coyote Ugly among more recent examples, at a fifth-grade level to begin with.
Granted, Kangaroo Jack's violence bears no real consequences; no one is killed or even wounded, though if no one was harmed in the making of the picture, surely someone might be during the watching of it. It certainly equals the brutality found in most kiddie console games, and the curse words have been tamed and dulled, to the point of a few "friggins" and "hecks"; the kids' parents will utter far worse when forced to sit through this acting-class field trip to the Outback. Though, to be completely fair, I stopped paying real attention halfway through, when supermodel Estella Warren showed up as some kind of wildlife expert who spoke with the authority of someone who never even owned a cat. Or ever actually spoke, for that matter. It speaks ill of any movie when a computer-generated 'roo possesses more human-like qualities than any actor in the proceedings.
Jerry O'Connell (the fat kid from Stand By Me who turned into a hunk...of wood) plays Charlie Carbone, adopted son of gangster Christopher Walken, like someone who half expects his paycheck to bounce. His is allegedly a close friendship with Louis (Anthony Anderson), who saved Charlie from drowning when they were kids, but they possess the chemistry of total strangers who didn't actually meet till the wrap party. Doubtful you're supposed to cheer Louis' demise when he's hanging by his fingernails from a cliff, but, hey, he does have it coming. And you have to wonder if Walken's scripts are chosen at random by a dyslexic chimp; sometimes he jabs a finger on a Catch Me If You Can, sometimes he throws his poo on Kangaroo Jack.
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Perhaps Kangaroo Jack serves best as proof that anyone can make it in the movie business: It was directed by David McNally (who shuffled across the bar of the Coyote Ugly, then fell into a puddle of stale beer and puke) and written by Steve Bing (biggest credit to date: a Chuck Norris sequel) and Scott Rosenberg (who's cranked out such Bruckheimer spectacles as Con Air and Gone in 60 Seconds), and if men with credits like these can continue to draw paychecks from major studios, then there's hope for the 5-year-old who just got that 99-buck Prime Entertainment Digital Movie Creator video cam for Christmas. Better get the kids rolling--there's always January 2004 to fill.