Rated PG - Running Time: 1:29 - Released 7/12/02

The Crocodile Hunter is one of those interesting shows on The Discovery Channel/Animal Planet which you should never watch while eating. It introduced the world to everybody's favorite Australian naturalist, Steve Irwin, and his American-born wife Terri, who spend their time wrestling crocodiles and many other vicious and deadly creatures from down under, with the purpose of studying them and saving them from the perils of the human race. The show is a big hit among children and adults alike, who watch in wonderment as the good-natured and ever-enthusiastic Steve shouts "Crikey!" each time the animal he's fiddling with attempts to end his life, or at least his grip, and Terri calmly fills in the gaps with interesting facts while watching her husband avoid the drooling, gaping, snapping jaws of death.

The show's conversion to the big screen is a bit of a mixed bag, however, alternating between the fascinating and very real footage of Steve and Terri (chasing not only crocs, but fast lizards, poisonous snakes, deadly spiders, and even a harmless but abandoned baby kangaroo) and a very lame and not-too-well-acted fictional story involving American CIA agents and a top-secret satellite beacon. Personally, I would have liked the film better just as a straight documentary, but I suppose director John Stainton, Irwin's longtime TV director, felt that it would attract a wider audience if it had a silly story attached.

When a big, tough, angry crocodile threatens the livestock on her Queensland ranch, the big, tough, angry Brozzie Drewett (Aussie actress Magda Szubanski, whom Babe fans will remember as Mrs. Hoggett) attempts to respond in kind...with a shotgun. But since it's against the law to kill crocs, she gets a finger-waggling from an agent of the Department of Fauna & Fisheries (basically the same as the DNR) named Sam Flynn (David Wenham), who calls in the most skilled croc wranglers in the country—you guessed it, Steve and Terri. What they don't know, however, as they attempt to trap and relocate the mammoth creature, is that he has recently ingested a piece of space junk that has fallen to earth after a collision with a comet—a highly classified electronic beacon which the American CIA desperately wants to get back. Unbeknownst to Steve, Terri, Brozzie, or the croc, the beacon is emitting a silent radio signal that allows it to be tracked from space, and two U.S. agents (Lachy Hulme, Kenneth Ransom) are sent to find it in the Australian wilderness, while an Australian agent (Kate Beahan) attempts to beat them to it.

As one would expect, the footage of Steve & Terri (who never cross paths with any other characters until the film's final reel) is quite interesting and virtually indistinguishable from the TV show. Steve's exuberant and life-threatening behavior is reminiscent of a teenage boy, pushing, prodding, and taunting the various creatures, occasionally seeming to be genuinely in fear for his life, but always gentle and respectful. Terri, while much more quiet and reserved, is always ready to jump in and help, or drive the boat, or get the Band-Aids. But the scenes with the other actors are strictly filler, giving the audience the distinct urge to shout out, "Get back to Steve and Terri!" The script, penned by director Stainton and Holly Goldberg Sloan, is pretty much disposable, and the acting matches, although Ms. Szubanski does craft a mildly amusing character. If you're a Crocodile Hunter fan, you'll enjoy at least the "real" portions of the film. If you're looking for a story, don't bother. ***

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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