The fact that Crocodile Dundee broke all box-office records in Australia – even topping E.T. – did not automatically qualify it for American distribution. Often, something that is wildly popular in its native country just never quite translates into other markets, particularly the persnickety United States. Look how long it took soccer, ABBA, and Julio Iglesias to break in.
Paramount Pictures, however, obviously believes that Dundee has a real shot in the U.S.; they’ve backed the film with a strong ad campaign and a publicity blitz for its star, Paul Hogan.
You know Hogan, even if you don’t know the name. He’s the chap in the very successful Australian tourism commercials who urges us to say “g’day” and visit the America’s Cup Down Under. Well, it seems he’s just about the most popular personality in Australia, with his own highly rated TV show. Dundee (which he co-wrote), is his first film. Hogan’s regular TV director, Peter Faiman, also directed the film.
Now that “Dundee” is here, it’s plain to see why Paramount has faith in Hogan and the film. It’s an entirely pleasant escapade, very smartly done, and Hogan is as smooth as the crocodile-leather vest he wears.
He plays an adventurer who owns a safari park in backwoods Australia. An American reporter (Linda Kozlowski) hears about his Tarzanesque experiences with crocodiles, and she seeks him out, hoping to get a good story by accompanying him into the wild.
This trek is the first half of the movie, with Hogan in his element: killing snakes, wrestling crocs, dancing with aborigines. And, needless to say, becoming just a bit barmy about the comely reporter.
She has a brainstorm, and drags Hogan back to New York City with her, so he can see how the other 99 percent lives. This brings the film into familiar stranger-in-a-strange-land territory, which has become a subgenre as crowded as Manhattan’s streets. But Dundee still manages to scare up some honest laughs out of Hogan’s encounters with hot dogs, subways, and culture shock (he good-naturedly asks a black chauffeur what tribe he’s from).
The humor is as easy and laid-back as Hogan’s persona, and is not above the occasional unabashed joke. Example: The reporter holds her camera up to take a picture of Hogan’s aborigine friend in the outback. The aborigine tells her not to take the picture. “Oh,” she says, full of mildly patronizing wonder of primitive cultures, “you think it will steal your soul.” “No,” he says, “you’ve got the lens cap on.”
If you think that’s funny, then much of the corny, easy humor of Crocodile Dundee is for you. In any case, it’s hard not to like Paul Hogan, who stands to build himself quite a following hereabouts. Could he be the next Julio Iglesias?
First published in The Herald, October 1, 1986
I know what you’re thinking: Nobody says “comely” anymore. And also, I feel certain this film has not aged well, especially some of these very dodgy jokes. Googling around I see that there’s some awful stuff around transgender and gay characters, the defense of which would undoubtedly suggest that at least part of the joke is on Hogan’s character – but probably not enough. Can’t deny the brilliant marketing scheme, which turned Dundee into a huge stateside hit, a crafty bet on Paramount’s part.