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‘Kangaroo Jack’ is lesson in stupidity

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KANGAROO JACK —* 1/2 — Jerry O'Connell, Anthony Anderson, Estella Warren, Marton Csokas, Christopher Walken, Michael Shannon, Dyan Cannon; rated PG (slapstick violence, vulgarity, profanity, brief drugs); see "Playing at local movie theaters" for complete listing of local theaters.

In addition to bringing us a handful of late-arriving Oscar contenders, January is usually good at providing at least a couple of contenders for the worst-of-the-year lists.

The first of 2003's crop is "Kangaroo Jack," a supposedly family-friendly, live-action comedy that features some surprisingly mean-spirited humor, sexually suggestive references that push the PG rating and more flatulence jokes than the big screen "Scooby-Doo."

Speaking of surprises, the biggest may be that the film comes from blockbuster producer Jerry Bruckheimer, whose standard fare is big, brainless action movies, not simply stupid comedies like this one. He's really outdone himself here. "Kangaroo Jack" is among the worst things to bear his name (and the clownish bits featuring a CGI-rendered marsupial practically shriek desperation).

The film stars Jerry O'Connell and Anthony Anderson as, respectively, Charlie Carbone and Louis Fucci, childhood pals who can't seem to do anything right. Charlie's mobster stepfather (Christopher Walken) has grown weary of their screwups, so he sends them off to Australia to deliver $50,000 in cash. What they don't know is that their package is to pay a hitman to kill them.

If that's not enough, the bumbling duo manage to lose the cash — to the pocket of a jacket they placed on a kangaroo they think they killed. Said kangaroo then simply hops into the outback. To get the loot back, they'll need help from Jessie (Estella Warren), a beautiful animal expert. And in the meantime, they're being pursued by the hitman (Marton Csokas), who's eager to kill.

There's an air of menace here that's not really appropriate for a kids film. O'Connell and Anderson seem to be having fun; their onscreen friendship seems quite natural. But they aren't served well by this material, cooked up by Steve Bing and Scott Rosenberg, nor the direction of David McNally, who attempts to cover up the script's problems by playing things ever more frantically.

"Kangaroo Jack" is rated PG for scenes of slapstick violence (gunplay, brawling, vehicular and attempted animal submission), crude humor involved bodily functions, some suggestive talk, scattered use of profanity, brief drug use (accidental use of tranquilizers). Running time: 95 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com