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Crocodile Dundee (1986) ~ Review

April 13, 2010

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Directed by: Peter Faiman; Starring: Paul Hogan, Linda Kozlowski, John Meillon, Mark Blum and David Gulpilil; Screenplay by: John Cornell, Paul Hogan, Ken Shadie; Australia/ US; 94 minutes; Certificate: PG

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In many ways, the ’80s were a crude decade (yuppies’ machismo money-making, Sly and Arnie’s violent, sweary action flicks, and big hair and even bigger hoop earrings), but there was very little crude about the movie released halfway through them that became not just the most successful Australian film of all-time, but also – profit compared to budget – the most successful film of all-time throughout the world.

Back in the day, Crocodile Dundee was a special flick and, make no mistake, it still remains a real gem. But why? Well, it doesn’t really offer anything exceptional, groundbreaking or clever (it’s not a Citizen Kane, nor is it an Avatar), yet what it lacks in excitement and cinematic thrills, it makes up for with real doses of charm and heart. In many ways it’s rather old fashioned both in style and execution, it’s slow and predictable, I guess; but its intentions are so good and it tends to get under your skin in such an irresistible way, that it would surely take a very heavy, Gordon Gekko-like heart to resist it.

The plot is as simple as beans around an Outback camp fire. Mick J ‘Crocodile’ Dundee (former Aussie comic Paul Hogan in a Golden Globe-winning performance) is a gnarled, adventurer from ‘The Bush’ whose reputation entices New York journalist Sue Charlton (the lovely Linda Kozlowski) to find him and feature him in her news magazine. While she finds out that his legend doesn’t quite stand up to the reality, she also discovers that his way of life, capabilities in the harsh natural world he inhabits and simple, rustic manners are impressive and charming in equal measure. To tie up her story on him, she invites him back to the hurly-burly metropolis thousands of miles away she calls home, giving him the chance to swap the quiet, savage beauty of the Outback for the Big Apple.

Of course, this is obvious fish-out-of-water stuff, but what is nicely effective is that it’s actually fish-out-of-water twice with the tables reversed the second time – first, Sue’s on a journey of discovery in the Outback, then Mick is on one of his own in the big city. And, with the advantage of hindsight and several years of growing nostalgia, this set-up seems even more appealing. The heroine is discovering the natural delights of Australia around the time when the notion of the ‘adventure’ holiday became reality and Oz itself seemed to be taking off as a popular and trendy tourist destination, while the hero – a rugged, supposedly unsophisticated antipodean – discovers the sheen, gloss and reality of ’80s New York, surely the era when that city was at its fashionable peak and seemed to be at the centre of the entire world.

A lot of credit for how well Crocodile Dundee works then must go to its script. But then applied to the screen, the relatively simple and effective plot probably works as satisfyingly as it does because Peter Faiman’s direction is so simple and effective. The first half in Australia makes terrific use of its locales (the Northern Territory’s Kakuda National Park) and the photography is stunning, but when the action moves to New York, the director doesn’t make the mistake of speeding up the pace to suit the new location; instead in this second half of the film, told as it is from Dundee’s point of view, we correctly experience this crazy urban jungle through his relaxed eyes. Above all, this is a film in which the characters are allowed time to grow and breathe, great dialogue is given time to be delivered and terrific little scenes and jokes are allowed to take centre-stage.

And there’s many a moment to savour. Of course, there’s the unforgettable ‘That’s a knife’ gag, but there’s also Mick discovering a bidet, sleeping on the floor of his hotel room, covering his privates in the bath with his hat when he thinks the maid’s walking in and telling a guy to give him some space because he’s getting somewhere with a couple of girls – not realising they’re prostitutes and the guy’s their pimp.

All right, so with the passage of time, it’s easy to look at something so charmingly entertaining as Crocodile Dundee through rose-tinted glasses (Hogan and co. certainly knew what they were doing – they deliberately set out to make a successful film that would appeal to the US market; just as British filmmakers would do years later with the smash Four Weddings And A Funeral), but filmmaking’s a business and when a movie from the ’80s – which very much belongs to that decade – hits the spot in ways that other ’80s-defining, yet cynically vacuous fare like, say, Top Gun (also released in ’86) could only dream, then you’ve surely got to be on to a winner. Or, as Mick Dundee would probably put it, ‘No worries, mate’.

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