Lead roles, as Michael Caine ruminated recently, are in short supply for the over 80’s, so for someone born in 1939, it’s amazing that Paul Hogan is still making movies at all. A movie released back in 2020, but dropping on (Freevee) streaming now, The Very Excellent Mr Dundee is a meta-comedy in which Hogan plays a fictional version of himself. Hogan became a worldwide household name through a successfully exported tv sketch show in the late 70’s and early 80’s, which led to beer and tourism commercials which made him synonymous with his home country of Australia. Crocodile Dundee was Oscar nominated (for writing) and was to become the most successful indie film in history at that point, leading to a popular if less well-received sequel, a widely ignored third film, and several other studio efforts which flopped hard, although his later Australian films still found a market down under. But whether you remember Hogan or not, he deserves one more curtain call, and here is is.
Yet even 2020 seems like a long time ago today, and The Very Excellent Mr Dundee feels like a time capsule of material to remind us how we lived, erm, three years ago? Part of the story is that Hogan is hoping to be knighted by the ‘Queen of England’ herself, so we know that isn’t happening. He plays a charity gig opposite the late Olivia Newton John, there’s topical jokes about Betty White and Harvey Weinstein and Hogan turns down beloved actor Will Smith to play his son in a Dundee sequel; three years later, all of these references fall flat with the wettest imaginable squelch. But at least Hogan is trying to keep up with the times; taking Curb Your Enthusiasm as a template, Hogan imagines himself in various celebrity cancel-culture scenarios in which his fame is tarnished by his failure to understand the modern world. Hogan falls from Australia’s favourite movie star to a ‘disgraced racist nun-basher’ starts when he’s caught on camera accidentally throwing a snake in a woman’s face, and includes such indignities as accidental child-strangling and getting cast opposite Selena Gomez (80/30 is too old’ he demurs tactfully). There is a welcome bitterness about Hogan’s POV; he notes that even his most enthusiastic fans didn’t see the third Dundee film, and a throwaway line like ‘As with Lightning Jack, no one is laughing,’ shows a scathing sense of self-awareness.
‘What about my legacy?’ asks Hogan; in real life, unhappy marriages, tax issues and health problems have weighed the star down, so it’s probably more fun to see him cause offence; ‘Does Hogan hate all Catholics?’ a headline shrills, but Hogan upsets everyone; he accidentally insults the industry figures at a black music awards do when he mistakenly thinks he’s being interviewed about the plight of orphan children. These kind of scenarios have worked for Larry David, but he’s spent decades honing that edgy persona and Hogan’s appeal has previously been much more relaxed, verging on lazy at times. Hogan calls in some household-name support, including Wayne Knight (Newman from Seinfeld), John Cleese, Reginald VelJohnson from Die Hard and yes, there’s Chevy Chase quite literally playing himself, deriding Hogan’s real-life nomination for writing (“didn’t know it was still a category’) from the lofty position of being an Oscar-winner for Caddyshack. Of course, we know that Chase didn’t win an Oscar for Caddyshack in real life, but it’s a truth generally accepted in today’s more enlightened world that he should have.
The Very Excellent Mr Dundee is a self-deprecating swan-song from an comic who seeks to denigrate a long career and portray himself as a one-hit wonder, but achieved more than most. He’s still a recognisable enough brand for modern stars like Margot Robbie, Hugh Jackman, Liam Hemsworth and Danny McBride to appear in a Crocodile Dundee themed Super-bowl commercial to promote Australian tourism. If this film’s final acts falls apart somewhat with some raw self-promotion( ‘He is a genius!’ really isn’t a line you should put in your own movie about yourself) and a beyond exhausted cliché about finding the time to attend a child’s concert recital, but there’s enough decent gags and genial bonhomie to keep Mr Dundee afloat over 90 mins. ‘Don’t forget to rate me five stars,’ quips Cleese as he jumps out of a speeding car, but while The Very Excellent Mr Dundee isn’t quite worth that, Hogan’s unusual willingness to be the butt of jokes about himself just about gets this oddball little film over the line.