Down Under Par

You'll never smile at this Crocodile.

Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles
All-wheel dive: These days, Hogan makes a better - Subaru pitchman.
All-wheel dive: These days, Hogan makes a better Subaru pitchman.
Which is correct -- "more leathery" or "leatherier"? What the heck, let's try them both: Paul Hogan, who was leathery in Crocodile Dundee and leatherier in Crocodile Dundee II, is more leathery still in the dreary Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles.

Leathery or not, the Australian, now around 60, looks at least 10 years younger. His co-star and main squeeze, Linda Kozlowski, little seen in films since she gained notice opposite Hogan in Croc the First back in 1986, looks great too -- she has a fleshy, trophy-wife radiance. Both of them have aged a good deal better than the material that made them, however briefly, stars in this country.

And stars they were. Hogan, a popular TV comic in Australia, made a hit with U.S. audiences in the mid-'80s in a series of ads promoting tourism down under. Someone had the brainstorm to build a movie around him -- an easygoing comic vehicle which he co-wrote. He played Mick "Crocodile" Dundee, a pure-hearted tracker from the outback who guides sexy yank reporter Kozlowski through the wilderness and rescues her from one of his namesakes, then travels back to New York with her, where he rescues her from an equally reptilian boyfriend and shows her how her big-city life is lousier than his life out in God's country and all that.

It was a pretty timid little movie, really, but it had pleasant touches of self-deprecating humor, and something about Hogan's healthy, virile wholesomeness seemed to click with the '80s ethos. It led to a brief Australian vogue in American movies -- there was the attempt to import Yahoo Serious in Young Einstein in 1988, and Tom Selleck took a shot in 1990 with Quigley Down Under, directed by Simon Wincer.

As for Hogan, he made a forgettable sequel, Crocodile Dundee II, in 1988, and had a few more star outings, including the Western Lightning Jack, directed by Wincer. But he has enjoyed his greatest success in recent years in a series of Subaru commercials. Maybe the focus groups suggested to somebody that the time was ripe for his famed alter ego to make a movie comeback, this time with the family audience.

Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, also directed by Wincer, begins with our hero and his lady love Sue still living in (unwedded) bliss in the outback with their son (Serge Cockburn). Sue is asked by her father, a newspaper magnate, to come to L.A. as an interim editor, following the death of an editor who was looking into a shady movie company. Mick and son tag along.

What follows? What do you think? A string of L.A. jokes that needed a shave 30 years ago, about how the chauffeur's really an actor, and everyone's a phony trendoid.

There are some weird and vaguely unsavory moments, though. George Hamilton pops up for one scene, as an oddball at a party who insists that the secret of health is coffee colonics. Mick and son encounter Mike Tyson sitting in the lotus position in a park -- the Chairman Mao tattoo on his arm much in evidence -- and the gentle giant teaches them to meditate. Mick and a crony from the outback mistakenly enter a gay bar, then hustle out seconds later in elaborate discomfort. They are then accosted by a carload of gangbangers, who assert that they are "fools, dressed up," and that "fools got money too"-- it seems likely that the word "fools" was looped over the word "fags" for the sake of a PG rating. Earlier, when a woman proclaims Mick so perfect that he must be gay, he doesn't get the reference and agrees that, yes, he's usually pretty happy.

Every once in a while, these labored, plodding scenes are interrupted by a nod to the feeble little plot about Sue's investigation of two heavies (Jere Burns and Jonathan Banks) using a movie studio as a front for smuggling. Mostly, though, the focus is on the guileless Mick, who rescues endangered animals from the freeway and who, like Roy Rogers, doesn't kill the bad guys, just disarms them. This gallant persona may be darkened a bit for those who know about the fate of one Rodney Ansell, the famed "bushie" on whom the character is said to be based and who died in a shootout with police in 1999, after killing a policeman himself. Ansell was reportedly bitter about, among other things, his inability to profit from the franchise that made Hogan rich and famous.

Despite its infantilism and its creepy, disingenuous subtext, it would be hard to imagine a movie more carefully designed to be inoffensive to the mainstream than Crocodile Dundee in L.A. -- and as a result, it would also be hard to imagine a much less exciting movie. Still, inoffensiveness can sometimes lead to success, at least initially, for a family film. With a little luck, Hogan might be able to pull off Crocodile Dundee Saves Christmas or something like that in a few years, as long as he can keep his youthful looks. He'd better start the coffee colonics right away.

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