Films are errors of comedy

January 17, 2003|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

No single person could be responsible for making movies as haphazardly executed as either A Guy Thing or Kangaroo Jack, two supposed comedies that surely must have been slapped together by committee, so disjointed are the finished products and so thick is the air of desperation - as in, "There must be some way to make this work!" - smothering them.

Kangaroo Jack is surely the worse of the two, firmly establishing itself as the film to beat when it comes to gawdawful moviemaking for 2003. One can almost envision the story conference that surely preceded the actual making of this mess, as a roomful of suits, assuredly cracking not a single smile among them, got together to brainstorm themselves a movie guaranteed to put people of all ages in the seats.

"Let's be sure there's a lot of action, that'll bring in all the young guys," said one suit, who was immediately sent out of the room to ensure the participation of Hollywood's No. 1 adrenaline rusher, Jerry Bruckheimer (who produced, surely a credit that will not bring honor to his resume).

"Make sure we cast a cute guy in the lead, so the girls will be sure and show up," shouted another, who was thus dispatched with exactly those marching orders and ended up signing the relentlessly lightweight Jerry O'Connell (TV's Sliders).

"Don't forget to cast a hottie as the female love interest," chimed in another, "and be sure she dresses in something clingy." Beautiful but inert Estella Warren (Planet of the Apes) fills that bill, aided by her character's unprompted decision to take a bath in a handy lake.

"And let's not neglect the cool, irresponsible, but hilarious black sidekick," offers yet another. Anthony Anderson (Barbershop, Two Can Play That Game) was brought in, and confounded everyone by actually being funny on-screen.

"Any possibility we could get some respected actor to play a bit role, for, you know, a little prestige?" suggests one guy, who somehow proceeds to get Christopher Walken's name on the dotted line, to play the mobbed-up stepdad of O'Connell's character. (He also got Dyan Cannon to play his mom, but all her lines ended-up on the cutting-room floor.)

And then, no doubt, the head suit, the guy who actually had to sign off on this thing, offered his two cents. "Any chance we can work in a talking kangaroo?" he asked. And lo, it was done.

Here's what ended up onscreen: Two lifelong friends, hairdresser Charlie (O'Connell) and ne'er-do-well Louis (Anderson), tick off Charlie's stepdad and, on a mission of redemption, are sent to Australia to deliver an envelope containing $50,000 to a mysterious Mr. Smith.

On their way to the drop, their vehicle collides with and apparently kills a kangaroo; Charlie is horrified, but Louis thinks it would be a hoot to dress up the dead animal in a red jacket and snap some pictures. This they do, only the beast is not dead, but wakes up and hops away. Which amuses Charlie greatly, until Louis tells him the 50 grand is stashed in the coat's pocket, making the 'roo (which the pair of Yanks hilariously dub "Jackie Legs") Australia's richest marsupial. And so the pair desperately scramble their way through the Outback, aided by a soused pilot (Bill Hunter) and a handy naturalist (Warren) who happens to wander by.

Kangaroo Jack is as bad as it sounds, amazingly devoid of wit and not nearly as chock-full of lunacy as it thinks. It's also notably tasteless, especially for a PG movie that's supposed to be fun for the entire family; a sequence in an airplane lavatory occupied by both Charlie and Louis is filled with the sort of sophomoric double entendres that all audiences should be protected from, but especially young children.

A Guy Thing is better, if only by comparison. Again, here's a film that desperately tries to please everyone. At first, it's a slapstick comedy about a prospective bridegroom, Paul (the ever-game Jason Lee) who wakes up next to a strange woman, Becky (Julia Stiles), the morning after his bachelor party, then spends the next several days accidentally bumping into her at every possible turn. Then it turns into a screwball comedy about a guy who's not so sure he wants to settle down next to the old ball and chain, if you know what I mean. And then it spins again, becoming a relationship comedy about a guy who's marrying the wrong girl, but thank goodness the right girl shows up in the nick of time (even if he doesn't realize it at first).

Some of this stuff actually works. It's cute when Stiles' character keeps turning up. Also funny is the running gag that has complete strangers, all men and all without even being asked, covering for Paul's various indiscretions. "It's a guy thing," we're reassured. Stiles, blessed with a naturally skeptical expression that makes her seem wickedly wiser than everyone else, is used to great effect; her Becky seems way too intelligent for all this nonsense, but that doesn't stop her from enjoying Paul's continuing discomfort.

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