Crocodile Dundee (Australia, 1986)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The success of Paul Hogan's Crocodile Dundee in America is about as unlikely as the success of the title character on the streets of New York City. Nevertheless, in part because of Hogan's winning smile and in part because of his unpretentious style, the 1986 import became one of the year's biggest blockbusters, as well as the most unanticipated big money-maker of the Autumn movie season. When it finally departed from theaters in early 1987 (after a run of almost four months), Crocodile Dundee had amassed an astonishing gross of $175 million. It would go on to make more than $70 million on video cassette, making it by far the most popular all-time Australian import to the United States.

The popularity of the film and the title character were such that the number of U.S. tourists to Australia rose dramatically during 1987 (a number of TV spots recorded by Hogan pre-Dundee were dusted off the shelves to capitalize on the actor's overnight American success). Of course, there was also the unavoidable sequel, which Hogan was reportedly reluctant to do. Given the end result, it's understandable why. Crocodile Dundee 2 was a disappointment in nearly every way, and, even though it made over $100 million, it was generally regarded as a lackluster regurgitation of the first. (Incidentally, after stating in 1988 that there would "never" be a Crocodile Dundee 3, Hogan has gone back on his word, electing to resurrect the character in 2001 for Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles.)

Crocodile Dundee is a breezy, fun affair - a trifle that is extremely pleasant to sample and leaves no bitter aftertaste. It's a fantasy that's part romantic comedy and part fish-out-of-water, and, while most of the elements are familiar in a different context, Crocodile Dundee's method of merging them is unconventional enough that the film seems as fresh and unsullied as the Australian bush in which the first half of the movie transpires.

The film opens with New York journalist Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski, who would become Hogan's wife) hunting down the legendary Michael J. 'Crocodile' Dundee (Hogan) in the small rural Australian town of Walkabout Creek. She makes contact with Walter Reilly (the late John Meillon), the co-proprietor of "Never Never Safari Tours" ("Never go out, and, if you do, you'll never come back."), who promises to send her on a three-day, two-night trip with Mick. Local myth states that Mick survived a one-on-one encounter with a crocodile, then, after having half his leg bitten off, he crawled back home. Sue wants to see where it happened so she can prepare a feature on Mick and his ordeal. The man she eventually meets is nothing like what she expects. Sure, he's charismatic, energetic, and undeniably chauvinistic, but there's something about him that she can't quite put her finger on.

After spending about 48 hours together in the bush, Mick and Sue have bonded, and she invites him to come back to New York with her. "It will be a great wrap to the story," Sue assures him. "Oh, is that all? I thought you were making a pass at me." quips Mick. So, for the first time in his life, Mick leaves Australia for the wilds of Manhattan, where he encounters a stranger breed than anything found in the bush. And, when Mick and Sue are confronted by a mugger, the following now-classic exchange occurs:

Sue: "Mick, give him your wallet."
Mick: "What for?"
Sue: "He's got a knife."
Mick (brandishing his own weapon): "That's not a knife. This is a knife."

Crocodile Dundee is peppered with memorable moments like that, most of which occur during the second half, while Mick is navigating the ins-and-outs of New York City. In addition to his encounter with the mugger, he also plays the gallant gentlemen to a pair of hookers, and comes up with an infallible (if untactful) way of determining whether a woman is really a woman, or just a man dressed in drag. And, when it comes to hotel amenities, he learns a little about tipping, room service, and bidets. All the while, he and Sue have time to fall in love, which leads to the grand fairy tale ending in the subway station.

The movie works entirely because of Hogan. Although already a well-recognized face in Australia (where he had his own comedy TV show in the early '70s), Hogan was virtually unknown in the United States (not counting his TV spots for the Australia Tourism Commission) before Crocodile Dundee. The arrival of the film meant an end to anonymity for the actor in North America; suddenly, everyone wanted to interview him. For better or for worse, Hogan became typecast as Mick Dundee. Audiences readily accepted him in the sub-par sequel, but rejected him in his non-Crocodile efforts (including Lightning Jack and Flipper). It's not hard to understand why American movie-goers reacted so positively to Hogan; his Mick Dundee has a natural, unforced charm that is hard for even the best actor to artificially generate. He can move flawlessly from action to comedy and back again. He has the tough, weathered look of a veteran, and the naivete of an innocent. Mick is the kind of guy all men would like to have for a buddy and all women would like to have for something a little more. (Movies don't make that much money without appealing to both males and females. The film's $175 million in 1986 movie dollars equals at least $250 in 2001.)

Mick's love interest, Sue, is played by Linda Kozlowski, whose name quickly became linked to Hogan's through tabloid reports. After Hogan divorced his longtime wife, he married Kozlowski. Their union has apparently been more fruitful than either of their careers. Like Hogan, Kozlowski has experienced little on-screen success outside of the two Crocodile Dundee films. She doesn't show much acting range in the movie, but she's right for the part because her chemistry with Hogan is evident. Sue is the perfect foil for Mick. They may come from different worlds, but they share a lot of the same characteristics, including stubbornness and bossiness.

The supporting cast is populated by a number of colorful individuals. The most endearing of these is, Walter Reilly, Mick's business partner in the Never Never Safari venture. He is played by veteran John Meillon, who sadly passed away shortly after finishing work on the Crocodile Dundee sequel. Mark Blum portrays Richard Mason, Sue's American boyfriend, with all of the subtlety of a rat and the charm of a snake in the grass. And a pre-Die Hard, pre-"Family Matters" Reginald VelJohnson is Gus, the boomerang-hurling chauffeur who forms a bond with Mick during his New York visit.

Although Hogan is the constant centerpiece of attention, director Peter Faiman (who worked with Hogan during his TV days, but, aside from this film, hasn't done much on the big screen) ensures that all of the technical details are effectively blended. The score, by Peter Best, is perfect for the film, giving Mick a definitive theme, and matching the quirkiness of the story. Russell Boyd's cinematography offers some stunning sequences during the first half (when Mick and Sue are trekking through the outback). There's also a brilliant opening shot of New York City (although that was likely the result of second unit work).

Fifteen years after its initial release, Crocodile Dundee is still as fresh and enjoyable as ever. Little in the film seems dated, and Hogan's affability shines through. What the storyline lacks in ambition, it makes up for in sheer, unfettered likability. Hogan's willingness to do two sequels may have been an error, but there's no mistake in his choice to make the first Crocodile Dundee. It will long be remembered as one of the comedic highlights of the mid-'80s.

Crocodile Dundee (Australia, 1986)

Run Time: 1:33
U.S. Release Date: 1986-09-26
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Situations, Profanity, Mild Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1