Once you Kangaroo Jack you can Never go Back
Everyone has their first times with film; whether it be the first film you watched, the first you fell in love with and the first time you fundamentally disagreed with the academy’s best picture decision. We all have these memories forged and if, like me, you love to go the cinema you may also have a memory of the first time you were the only person in the theatre.
There is something magical about having a megaplex all to yourself, like you’re a Hollywood executive with your own private screening. Jumping for seat to seat picking out the ideal viewing spot. Yet often an empty theatre is a sign of two things: either a hidden gem that is surprisingly good or a film so bad it drove everyone away. My first was a combination of both.
Take your mind back to 2003. Floppy disks were still a thing and seven year old me was also excited to check out the newest releases at the Morley Galleria Greater Union cinema releases. 2003 had some classic children’s releases; Cat in the Hat, Holes and Spy Kids 3 to name a few. All were great but never spoke to me. That all changed when I saw a poster of a kangaroo wearing shades in a Brooklyn hoodie. The name, Kangaroo Jack. I was hooked.
To put things in perspective before 2003, Australia didn’t have much reputation in family friendly film scene, but a little film called Finding Nemo dropped that year and so, naturally, the floodgates opened. Finding out I’d see get to see a film actually set in Australia was thrilling. So one week in the school holidays my Dad and I bought our tickets and got into the theatre. When I saw the theatre was empty my mind was racing, I could sit wherever, whenever. The alarm bells hadn’t starting ringing yet.
Kangaroo Jack tells the story of Charlie (Jerry O’Connell) and Louis (Anthony Anderson, of Agent Cody Banks fame), who get themselves into all sorts of wacky hijinks with the Brooklyn mob scene. After a job involving stolen TVs gets botched, Sal (Christopher Walken), the mob boss and Charlie’s stepfather, sends them on a mission to deliver 50,000 dollarydoos to a mystery man in Australia. All seems to be going to plan when, what do you know, their money is taken by a pesky kangaroo. What follows is the adventure of two boys traversing the outback looking to get their money back while being chased down by everyone else.
You’re probably wondering how did something like this get put into production? Well I bet it went a little something like this….
Setting: Warner Bros HQ elevator
Barry: Gerry how are you doing?
Gerald: Oh Bazza doing great, doing great. What floor are you after?
Barry: 43 for me would be perfect thanks. So how are the kids?
Gerald: Oh you know such terriers they are keeping Janine and I up 24/7.
(Slight lull in conversation)
Barry: Alright enough small talk I called you here with an idea.
Gerald: You didn’t call me here, I was heading up to my office anyway-
Barry: I heard you’re looking for a new children’s movie, I think I have just the idea.
Gerald: Well, Barry, I guess I can hear you out until we reach your floor.
Barry: Perfect, so you’ve heard of the 1998 classic Midnight Run?
Gerald: The buddy cop action movie starring Bobby De Niro and Yaphet Kotto? I know the one, yes.
Barry: Well imagine that but set in Australia?
Barry: And and imagine that it involves the mafia and a drug ring.
Gerald: This is a kids movie still?
Barry: Yeah it’s all family friendly the comedy writes itself, thick Australian accents, some physical comedy kids will lap it up.
Gerald: Hmmm I’m not too sure-
Barry: -It’ll have kangaroo.
Barry: You heard me, you know those muscle bound furries, imagine that uhhh dressed in a hoodie, with some bling yeah yeah I can see it all now.
Gerald: Barry you’re scaring me-
Gerald: Barry, please let go of me.
Barry: Fine the titular Kangaroo Jack will rap. You happy?
Gerald: SOLD! Here is 60 million dollars make us this hit.
And so a 60 million dollar crime/animal/comedy extravaganza was born.
So before we can unpack how this movie fails to live up the hype that synopsis deserves it’s important to look to the parent community for their take on this smash hit of 2003. So what did common sense media think of Kangaroo Jack.
“KANGAROO JACK is not just a very bad movie; it is a very bad movie that shows how inadequately the MPAA rating system handles the kinds of materials that are of concern to parents. This movie received a PG rating despite "humor" about topics that include masturbation, drinking and drunkenness, epilepsy, murder, grabbing a woman's breasts, the famous case where a dingo (wild Australian dog) ate a baby, a hit ordered by a mob boss on his stepson, and the ever-popular camel flatulence.”
It’s fair to say no-one took anything from this. My sneaking suspicion it’s drawn out from the fact this film doesn’t know who it’s for.
See this film, like many in the mid 2000s, fell into the common habit of taking any old script and attaching a cute animal to the promotion to make it ‘family-friendly’. So the story goes this was originally an action crime caper which didn’t test well. So Warner Bros, in their infinite wisdom, saw the success of Snow Dogs that same year and thought if we attach; a kangaroo, camel flatulence gags (a natural home-run) and funny foreign accents to the storyline we’ve got a success on our hands. I tried to see if there was any way that approach could have yielded a good film and alas I think this approach meant it was doomed to fail. A poor unsuspecting 7 year old me in an empty theatre wouldn’t know what hit him.
So where does it all go wrong specifically?
Maybe it’s the fact that the story is slapdash and tired. Or that the movie was poorly marketed setting up false expectations. Or that the acting is everyone just phoning it in. Or the fact that we have a soundtrack that consistently overwhelms you; blaring over albeit poor dialogue but information nonetheless. Or maybe it’s the fact that these factors were blended together to create this nightmare of a cocktail.
But worst of all, it’s just not funny. I could forgive this project of all it’s above faults if it was just Jerry O’Connell being kicked by a kangaroo for 90 minutes, but we don’t even get some tasteful slapstick. Instead we get dated references, jokes clearly for the dad’s brought along by their kids and thick ‘ocker’ Aussie accents to gawk at. Don’t believe me? I’ll just let this clip sit with you.
Now I mentioned the rap in our little flashback and it would be remiss of me not to provide you with a little taste of the lyrical chops on a CGI kangaroo. Have you ever wanted to see what a kangaroo sounds like with the voice of Christopher Walken? Of course you do, behold Kangaroo Jack himself.
At least when the sequel came out, Jack got his own rap. I can confidently say I prefer that rather than taking the immensely talented Sugarhill Gang down with them. I can’t hear Rapper Delight without the image of Jack shaking his rump permanently etched into my memory.
But you’ll be happy to know that by the end everything works out for our leads. They are $50,000 richer. The bad guys are sent off to prison. Jerry O’Connell even gets the girl. We close out on our characters having been richer for their experiences. Maybe the film has this saving grace, a happy ending, for little seven year old me to munch down. Oh wait there is still another 4 minutes of run time.
Rather than a neat finish with our leads the film has the audacity to make you sit through a CGI kangaroo doing his stand-up routine which includes: calling for his agent, an impression of Doctor Evil from Austin Powers sequel and a Looney Tunes inspired closing line of ‘That’s All Blokes’. Sorry movie, you haven’t earned that. I just sat through 90 minute of two New Yorkers running from the mob in Australia and of that we spent at best 12 of those with a kangaroo.
This tight five is the biggest crime the film commits. Especially to those who were promised a talking kangaroo and got nothing.
That atrocity rounds out Kangaroo Jack. Final judgements; there isn’t really a broader message here other than how a studio can willingly slap a furry onto any film, be it mob related or not, and happily call it family entertainment.
Is Kangaroo Jack good? No, not at all. Does it have it’s moments? No I regret coming back for a repeat watch to be honest. Should you check it out? Only if you need to put images to my words, but be forewarned once you Kangaroo Jack you can never go back.