Paul Hogan returns in The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee, but can he pull it off?

In his first major movie role for yonks, Paul Hogan returns in this sort-of sequel to Crocodile Dundee. The film raises an occasional smile but is smug and self-congratulatory, writes critic Travis Johnson.

At the age of 80, Australian icon Paul Hogan reteams with writer and director Dean Murphy, after Strange Bedfellows (2004), Charlie and Boots (2009), and That’s Not My Dog! (2018), for this lazy look at the Hoges legacy. Premiering on Prime Video this week, The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee uses the impending occasion of Hogan’s (fictional) knighthood to drift through 90 minutes of loosely connected sketches and celebrity cameos, occasionally pausing to remind us that back in the ‘80s absolutely everyone loved Crocodile Dundee.

And yes, I did too, and you certainly cannot understate that flick’s key role in putting Australia on the world stage. But it was a long, long time ago, a fact that Mr. Dundee both pokes fun at and wants us to forget. There’s a tension here between sending up Hoges and making fun of his position as a washed up celebrity (which is where much of the film’s humour comes from) and treating its subject with the respect he ostensibly deserves, which undercuts that same humour. This is not Bojack Crocman.

There’s some early promise. Hogan, hiking in the Hollywood Hills, comes across a group of fellow hikers who expect him to be able to deal with the rattlesnake blocking their path, but Hogan is, of course, merely an actor. From there we follow our man as he prepares for his unexpected knighthood and contends with a movie studio’s desire to reboot the Crocodile Dundee franchise with Will Smith playing Mick Junior. Hogan points out that the African American Smith would hardly have sprung from himself and on-screen (and former real life) partner Linda Koslowski, and suddenly his public stock begins to plummet.

Now, here’s the thing: an arch comedy about an ageing comedian haplessly upsetting woke gatekeepers in the age of instant online social censure? That’s not an unworkable concept. In the broad strokes Mr. Dundee follows that model, although it chooses to use Entertainment Tonight-style celebrity TV shows as its Greek chorus instead of Twitter, perhaps understanding that its ageing target audience probably aren’t au fait with that particular online gladiator academy. Hogan ambles from mishap to mishap, each time making some public faux pas that paints him as racist more often than not, and at minimum hopelessly out of touch and over the hill. Can our hero redeem his reputation before the credits roll?

Well, yes, of course. Both the film and, presumably, Hogan himself still see him as an everyman; a well-meaning regular bloke whose no-nonsense truisms are redolent with salt of the earth wisdom, which is a weird flex for a multimillionaire. The film repeatedly asks where Hogan has been for the last 20 years as though it doesn’t expect its audience to answer: ‘bogged down in a vicious battle over alleged tax evasion‘. And while the onscreen Hogan is clearly just a sketch of the real-life man, the disparity between the image being projected and our understanding of his actual circumstances is jarring.

Which would all be quite forgivable if The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee was funny, but it isn’t. Not to my sensibilities, at least, and we all know that humour is deeply subjective. Still, Mr. Dundee raises the odd smile rather than buckets of belly laughs, choosing instead to rely on the Pavlovian response to familiar faces to do the heavy lifting instead of actual jokes. In addition to a constant parade of minor celebs appearing in person, including Olivia Newton-John, John Cleese, Wayne Knight, Chevy Chase, Liam Hemsworth, and more, the film repurposes interview and red carpet footage of others to insert them into the story, recontextualising comments to appear as though they’re about Hogan’s in-film storyline. As a gimmick it falls flat, but it does mean we get Mel Gibson in this thing, if that works for you.

And maybe it does. If you’re feeling undemanding and nostalgic, The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee might scratch those itches quite satisfactorily, as long as you can ignore how self-congratulatory and low stakes the whole exercise is. If nothing else, hey, remember how good Crocodile Dundee was?