The idea of Paul Hogan playing himself and poking fun at his career downturn after the first two “Crocodile Dundee” films isn’t a bad one. But the execution of “The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee” is anything but excellent. A lumbering attempt at self-reflexive meta comedy, it raises precious few chuckles from the flimsy story of “Hoges” accidentally creating a storm of bad publicity for himself while awaiting a knighthood and fielding dumb offers to revive his famous franchise. This lethargic and poorly written item will doubtless attract Hogan’s large and loyal domestic fan base when it streams on Prime Australia from July 17. It’s hard to imagine it generating much interest anywhere else except as a curiosity item. North American VOD release date is pending.
“Mr. Dundee” is saved from total catastrophe by Hogan’s natural-born appeal. It’s almost impossible to dislike Hogan even when he’s saddled with a tepid script by Robert Mond and director Dean Murphy (also director of Hogan’s Aussie hits “Strange Bedfellows” and “Charlie & Boots”) that contains so little of the laconic humor and sharp wit that made Hogan a national comedy treasure and elevated him to global superstardom.
According to this carefree mix of fact and fiction, Hogan is happily retired in L.A. and living with son Chase (Jacob Elordi). Hogan doesn’t care much if people think he’s either dead or a reclusive has-been. Nor is he excited when told by manager Angie (Rachael Carpani, battling gamely with a clichéd character) that he’s due to receive a knighthood for services to comedy. (Australian citizens no longer receive knighthoods, but this fact is overlooked) A phone call from young granddaughter Lucy (Charlotte Stent) in Australia eventually convinces Hogan to accept the honor if only to make her happy.
So begins a series of unfortunate and mostly unfunny events that drag Hogan into an unwanted media spotlight and place his impending knighthood in jeopardy. The trouble begins at a meeting with over-excited Hollywood studio types who think it would be just great if Will Smith played Mick and Sue’s son in a new Dundee movie. This lame joke is indicative of the general level of humor. What should be no more than a throwaway gag — if it must be used at all — is given showpiece status and drags on forever with these dumbos repeatedly asking Hogan why he doesn’t seem keen on the idea (“Is it his height? His acting?” and so on). No sooner has Hogan stated the obvious than news leaks out and he’s accused of racism by tabloid media.
It gets worse for Hogan and viewers when they’re expected to believe Hogan somehow doesn’t realize he’s on the red carpet of a Black Talent awards night and not at a fundraiser for underprivileged children organized by his old mate Olivia Newton-John. Cue more media furore when Hogan tells reporters he “doesn’t pity them” and wants to help “those less fortunate than me.” Apart from the unconvincing cinematic execution of this pivotal sequence, it simply doesn’t wash that Hogan could be so clueless about red-carpet events after living in L.A. for so many years — recluse or not.
So much of the film’s humor belongs to a bygone age. It is supposed to be funny when the same studio hacks later suggest Abigail Breslin or Selena Gomez should play Mick’s love interest in a new movie. Hogan at least tells them he’s 80 now and it’s a ridiculous idea, but the conceit of the gag is cringing and creepy regardless of whether or not it’s intended to be “aware” or “ironic.”
Popping up from time to time are famous faces in cameo roles, few of whom contribute much in the way of laughs. John Cleese plays a crazy chauffeur who comes out of nowhere and goes straight back there. Wayne Knight invites himself to stay while rehearsing loudly for a musical, and Chevy Chase clocks in for a few mildly mirthful scenes satirizing the shallow and cynical nature of fame in Tinseltown. Elsewhere, Hogan makes friends with Luke (Nate Torrence), an annoying and unbelievably clueless aspiring paparazzo.
It also doesn’t help that the frequently big-and-brassy score gives the impression we’re watching a dinner theater farce or listening to the walk-on music for a Las Vegas lounge entertainer, circa 1964. In fairness to composer John Foreman, it must also be noted that his terrific song “That’s Not a Knife” provides the film’s highlight when performed in a delightful musical fantasy number that arrives unannounced at about the hour mark.
Filmed in L.A. and Melbourne, “Mr Dundee” is technically polished and brightly photographed by Roger Lanser.