“He stole the money,” says the teaser, " ... and he’s not giving it back!” We are supposed to infer that the thief in question is the marsupial in sunglasses pictured in the ad for “Kangaroo Jack.” But the greater culprit is the man whose name rests proudly above the title, producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
According to a studio release, Bruckheimer’s movies have brought in $12.5 billion in worldwide box office. That’s an impressive haul for masterminding such shameless scams as “Armageddon,” “Pearl Harbor,” “Gone in 60 Seconds” and “Con Air.”
Who could argue with such a knack for gaudy cheap tricks? Certainly not the army of yes-men who green-lighted Bruckheimer’s “Kangaroo Jack,” 88 minutes of desperate gyrations intended to simulate humor.
And certainly not Jerry O’Connell and Anthony Anderson, two blandly unfunny young actors who play longtime Brooklyn chums Charlie Carbone and Louis Booker, respectively a hairdresser and a street hustler whose nutty schemes are always getting them into trouble.
A prelude gives us some back story on how Charlie earned the lifelong gratitude of Louis as a kid in 1982, but the script stops short of explaining how the African American Louis came upon his Italian American roots. Instead we are vaulted forward to the present, when Louis’ latest bit of tomfoolery lands the pair in hot water with the local mob boss, Charlie’s stepfather, Sal. Beyond his crooked dealings, the colorful Sal is also a linguist manque, who confuses the words “plethora” and “anathema” when he gets his dander up.
It doesn’t get any better. To get the bungling duo far from harm’s way, Sal ships Charlie and Louis off to Australia to deliver $50,000 to a connection down under. But the dough ends up with a mean-spirited kangaroo, who first whacks Charlie with a martial-arts kick, then high-tails it into the Outback with the cash. The chase is on.
As the two stars make like a wax museum Abbott and Costello, they go up against a series of typical Outback challenges in pursuit of their kangaroo: sandstorms, marauding ants, flatulent camels and a voluptuous park service worker named Jessie (Estella Warren, pressed from the voluptuous blond mold). After a hostile “meet-cute” first encounter, Jessie and Charlie take time out for a romantic “Blue Lagoon"-style dip beneath a waterfall, allowing us to catch our breath from the onslaught of hilarious high jinks.
Reviving a dubious tradition of Hollywood mixed-race comedy teams of yore, the white guy gets the girl while the black guy is condemned to mug from here to eternity. From the evidence here, however, it is doubtful whether O’Connell or Anderson will fill either role for much longer. In “Kangaroo Jack,” they are mere pawns in the larcenous career of Bruckheimer, who will carry on making a plethora of movies that are anathema to anyone with half a brain.
MPAA rating: PG, for language, crude humor, sensuality and violence.
Jerry O’Connell...Charlie Carbone
Anthony Anderson...Louis Booker
Christopher Walken...Sal Maggio
Castle Rock Entertainment presents a Jerry Bruckheimer production, released by Warner Bros. Director David McNally. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Executive producers Mike Stenson, Chad Oman, Barry Waldman, Andrew Mason. Screenplay by Steve Bing & Scott Rosenberg, story by Steve Bing & Barry O’Brien. Cinematographer Peter Menzies Jr. Editors John Murray, William Goldenberg, Jim May. Costume designers Daniel Orlandi, George Liddle. Music Trevor Rabin. Production designer George Liddle. Supervising art director Brian Edmonds. Running time: One hour, 28 minutes. In general release.