'The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee': Film Review

Very Excellent Mr. Dundee
Courtesy of Lionsgate
You should curb your enthusiasm.
12/11/2020

'Crocodile Dundee' star Paul Hogan plays a hapless version of himself in Dean Murphy's meta-style Hollywood satire.

Any nostalgic affection for Aussie star Paul Hogan and his iconic Crocodile Dundee character will likely be put to the test by this ill-conceived comedy starring the now octogenarian actor. Incorporating Curb Your Enthusiasm-style meta humor, with the actor playing a rather depressed version of himself, The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee makes one long for such comparatively stellar Hogan vehicles as Almost an Angel and Lightning Jack.

Being released nearly two decades after the star's last American film, the unfortunate Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, this effort, directed by his frequent collaborator Dean Murphy (Strange Bedfellows, Charlie & Boots), depicts Hogan living a quiet life in his Los Angeles mansion while missing his homeland and the adorable granddaughter with whom he frequently FaceTimes. Despite the best efforts of his beleaguered manager (Rachael Carpani), Hogan's career seems moribund, and he's uninterested in a pitch by studio executives to revive his Dundee character in a new installment featuring Will Smith as his son.

The film's plot, such as it is, mainly revolves around the surprise offer of a knighthood that Hogan receives. He continually threatens to derail the honor with a series of unfortunate gaffes: inadvertently insulting Black people while at an awards show red carpet; accidentally throwing a snake in the face of a female bystander; involving innocent children in his physical altercation with an overweight Hollywood Boulevard Crocodile Dundee impersonator; and almost killing a nun.

It's a reasonable enough premise for comic mayhem, but the script by Murphy and Robert Mond fails to capitalize on it. Instead, the oddly titled film relies on a series of cameo appearances by veteran performers, many of them Hogan's '80s-era contemporaries, including Olivia Newton-John, John Cleese, Chevy Chase and even Reginald VelJohnson, who helpfully reminds us that he appeared in Die Hard. Several of Hogan's fellow countrymen also dutifully show up, including Luke Hemsworth and comedian Jim Jeffries.

Hogan essentially plays straight man to the celebrity guests, who occasionally send up their own personas to amusing effect. In this bizarro universe, Chase (with whom Hogan hosted the 1987 Academy Awards, along with Goldie Hawn) is universally beloved, which is perhaps the film's slyest in-joke, while Cleese is a now an Uber driver who's had to resort to gig work because he lost all his money to alimony, drugs, gambling and hookers. (Newton-John commits to no such self-mockery, instead relying on her still-abundant charm.)

The film occasionally displays some admirable self-awareness, as evidenced by a funny line about Pauly Shore returning to the top of the box office charts. More often than not, however, the gags fall flat, such as when Wayne Knight showing up as Hogan's unannounced houseguest and torments him with his singing and tap dancing. The attempts at satire are painfully cliched: Hollywood types drink outlandish health smoothies and pitch Rachel McAdams as a potential love interest in a new Dundee film. When Hogan comments that he's a half-century older than her, they agree that it's a problem and promise to find a younger actress. Finally, the less said about the dream sequence depicting a production number from a supposed Broadway musical version of Crocodile Dundee, the better (please, let's not give anybody any ideas).

The most problematic aspect of the film is that Hogan displays none of the cheeky charm and charisma that made him an international star. Although still obviously in great physical condition, he mainly walks through the film looking tired and pained, as if embarrassed to be taking part in such a labored self-reflexive exercise. On the other hand, you can't really blame him.

Distributor: Lionsgate (available in theaters and digital formats)
Production companies: Clock Sounds Productions, Kathy Morgan International, Piccadilly Pictures, Salt Media & Entertainment
Cast: Paul Hogan, Rachael Carpani, Jacob Elordi, Chevy Chase, John Cleese, Olivia Newton-John, Reginald VelJohnson
Director: Dean Murphy
Screenwriters: Dean Murphy, Robert Mond
Producers: Nigel Odell, Dean Murphy
Executive producers: Christopher Figg, Robert Whitehouse, Kathy Morgan, Sherman Ng, Andrew Mackie, Richard Payten
Director of photography: Roger Lanser
Production designer: Ralph Moser
Costume designer: Jeanie Cameron
Editors: Peter Carrodus, Robert Mond
Composer: John Foreman

Rated PG-13, 88 minutes