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Refreshing 'Croc Hunter' Has Comic Bite

Steve Irwin of Animal Planet takes the big screen by the tail with his usual quirky exuberance and documentary factoids.


Steve Irwin probably drives a lot of people crazy. And with reason. His manic exuberance combined with his only reasonably convincing naivete probably makes them feel like one of those venomous reptiles Irwin swings around by the tail bellowing "Crikey" ("This snake is mad--really mad!"), as he explains a la Marlin Perkins why the thing could easily kill "a hundred blokes my size" and prompts the viewer to choose sides.

So the very idea of making a feature film about Irwin--the wildly enthusiastic, wildly knowledgeable wild man of the Australian Outback and the star of Animal Planet's "The Crocodile Hunter"--seems like a recipe for disaster because the standard recipe would call for him (and wife Terri, who drives the Jeep and the boat, and can never quite get the noose around the crocodile's snout) to do everything he doesn't do well. And that is precisely why "The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course" is so refreshing and funny and, in its way, sophisticated.

Starting with the subplot--a twist in itself--"The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course" opens in outer space, where a U.S. satellite self-destructs, hurling toward Earth its secretive black box, which lands in Australia and is promptly eaten by a 12-foot crocodile. The entire intelligence community is on alert, because loss of the box (actually more of a space ball, with apologies to Mel Brooks) could affect the future of the free world. Despite this, the government sends CIA agents to locate the thing and bring it back.

Cut to Steve and Terri who are essentially doing their show--yes, the aspect ratio changes to television format, Irwin narrates the action, Terri adds hilariously bland but educational commentary, and it's as if we're watching Animal Planet.

There is another subplot--a shotgun-toting farm woman (Magda Szubanski of "Babe") is after the same cow-eating crocodile, which Irwin is dispatched to relocate. Essentially, though, the Irwins never leave the sanctity of the documentary format.

Not that they have any idea that the CIA is after them (once they capture the crocodile, all U.S. surveillance suggests that they, not the croc, are in possession of the box). The Irwins just think the crazy guys with guns are poachers and outwit them with the aplomb of Osama bin Laden.

Although swathed in the comfortable clothing of the cable show, "The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course" has a pretty deadly wit.

Irwin's never-ending monologue is consistently cornpone clever, delivered, as it is, while he has a deadly brown snake by the tail or is hunched over the back of a sometimes uncooperative crocodile.

There's the ever-so-subtle bit of naughtiness, such as when Terri takes her shirt off to warm an orphaned baby kangaroo (she has another on underneath) or when Irwin is particularly impressed by the equipment on a bird-eating spider ("Does she have a set of fangs on 'er or what!?"). Kids will love it because Irwin is always "mucking" around in "poo," telling you what the animal ate and then wiping it on his shirt.

It isn't Tom Stoppard. But it's just about as funny.

MPAA rating: PG, for action violence/peril and mild language. Times guidelines: Fine for kids who aren't frightened by the reptiles.

John Anderson writes about film for Newsday, a Tribune company.

'The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course'

Steve Irwin...Himself

Terri Irwin...Herself

Magda Szubanski...Brozzie Drewitt

David Wenham...Sam Flynn

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures presents a Best Picture Show Company / Cheyenne Enterprises production, released by MGM. Director John Stainton. Producers Arnold Rifkin, Judi Bailey, John Stainton. Screenplay by Holly Goldberg Sloan, story by John Stainton. Cinematographer David Burr. Editors Suresh Ayyar, Bob Blasall. Costume designer Jean Turnbull. Music Mark McDuff. Production designer Jon Dowding. Set decorator Chrissy Feld. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes.

In general release.

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