Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 17, 2021)
Paul Hogan’s career started in his native Australia during the early 1970s. However, it took some early 1980s tourism commercials to make him known in the US.
With a promise to “throw another shrimp on the barbie” for American visitors, Hogan gained some form of fame in the States. However, it took 1986’s Crocodile Dundee to turn him into a real star.
For a while, at least, as Hogan couldn’t generate another character that found an audience in the US. Still, few ever create an iconic role like this, so Hogan deserves credit.
Journalist Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowksi) hears about an Australian man who supposedly survived a near-death encounter with a crocodile. Eager for this story, she travels Down Under to meet the man himself.
There Sue encounters Michael “Crocodile” Dundee (Hogan), and the pair connect as more than reporter/subject. Sue invites Dundee back to New York with her, where the Outback warrior contends with the challenges of the big city.
From the vantage point of 2021, it can feel difficult to remember what a major success Dundee became. Everyone recalls Top Gun, 1986’s biggest US hit.
However, the Tom Cruise smash barely edged out Dundee at the box office. Top Gun earned a mere $2 million more in the States, a much closer result than one might expect given that the Cruise film remains viewed as a classic whereas Dundee feels like a largely forgotten relic.
Though I saw Dundee theatrically back in 1986, I don’t think I’d viewed it again until I watched it in 2021. I can’t claim that this occasion left me sad I went so long between screenings.
Not that I think Dundee becomes a bad film, as it manages some goofy charm at times. The film essentially splits in two parts, as the first half focuses on Mick/Sue in Australia while the second section leaves them mainly in New York.
Both sections work in very different ways, though. In Australia, we find some comedy, but that part mostly gives us Mick as adventurer, with a little romance as well.
Once the film shifts to America, though, Dundee turns into a traditional “fish out of water” tale, also with hints of love between the leads.
Outside of the then-exotic-to-Americans Outback focus, Dundee never brings us anything remotely original. The characters and gags follow their well-worn paths and fail to locate much that seems creative.
Hogan’s Aussie charms worked for audiences 35 years ago, and maybe they still do, though I can’t claim that I think he provides as engaging a performance as I might remember. I like that he lets Mick become the butt of jokes at times, but he never seems all that winning or likable, and that’s a bit of a flaw.
Sue also lacks much personality. Kozlowski looks good and holds her own, but she exists mainly as the generic love interest and plot facilitator, so the film doesn’t allow her to give us an especially memorable character.
All of this leaves us with a sporadically entertaining comedy but not one with much to stand out from the crowd. Though Crocodile Dundee never flops, it also doesn’t find much to impress circa 2021.