Yes there was. Honestly, yes. No, not particularly.
I think we might have all been understating the cultural importance of the film Crocodile Dundee. It’s sort of mandatory that you do, I think, if you value your sanity. In 1986, when the film came out, it was a massive success at the box office. It grossed $174 million in the US, making it the second highest grossing film of the year, taking just $2 million less than Top Gun. The films writers, including Paul Hogan, were nominated for an Oscar. As much as I think Crocodile Dundee is a fun film, that’s a lot to take in.
In the 1980s, the box office charts looked different to the charts of today. Where now multiplex listings are dominated by brands and superhero films with wince-inducing budgets, in the mid-eighties high concept films like Back To The Future, Fatal Attraction, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit were pulling in the highest grosses.
Crocodile Dundee was co-written by star Paul Hogan and produced independently on a budget below $10m. When the film hit big, Hogan became a star (although he was never able to step out of the shadow of the role that made him famous) and the character Crocodile Dundee became a pop culture touchstone. Even today, you could mention the character to someone with little interest in film and expect them to know what you’re talking about. Which is probably lucky, because how would you describe it? It’s like a Wolf Creek you could watch with your grandparents, assuming your grandparents are too boring to watch Wolf Creek.
In short order a sequel was made, and while the film made less money than the first, Crocodile Dundee 2 was still able to return more than $100 million.
The first film holds up as a particularly fun fish out of water story. Hogan’s warm performance brings to life a character in touch with nature, attuned to a simple way of life and of a pleasant disposition. Had a sequel been planned from the start perhaps the character’s trip to New York, late in the first film, would have been held back (were the film to hit big now we’d likely see a Crocodile Dundee cinematic universe, with multiple sequels and spin-offs for both Wally and the crocodiles). As it stands, the second film plays as an enjoyable re-tread of similar ground.
Mick Dundee would retreat to the outback to re-engage with the quiet life before returning to the big screen some 13 years later with 2001’s Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles. And what prompted the return?
“This is not a pathetic attempt to revive my sagging career,” Hogan told IGN back in 2001. “What career? A man’s got a body of film of about four movies in about 10 years or something. I do it because I think I can do a good job of something and I’ll enjoy it, do it, and sort of vanish. I don’t want to be an actor for hire.”
Alright, so maybe not money then. Whatever.
Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles failed to ignite the interest of an audience like the first two did. Watching the film, it’s hard to imagine how it might have inspired anyone to enthusiasm. Be that the marketing department tasked with selling the film, critics filing reviews or multiplex goers, who opted in large to see Bridget Jones’s Diary and Spy Kids instead.
That’s not to say it’s a bad film, it’s just an unremarkable one. Which, when you’re writing a looking back feature like this one, is a real pain in the outback. Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles is a soft, light, and unambitious family comedy.
We re-join Mick ‘Crocodile’ Dundee in the Australian outback where he’s had to adapt his tourist attraction to accommodate new hunting laws. When long-time partner Sue (Linda Kozlowski) is offered a job in Los Angeles, Mick insists the opportunity is too good for her to pass up and agrees to accompany her over to sunny California. Culture clashes and crime solving ensue.
When you bring a character back to the screen after a lengthy absence, there are two words that no one wants to hear. Those two words are ‘kid sidekick’. Here we are though, with a mini-Dundee following his father around, with Mick attempting to explain a culture that he doesn’t really understand to his son. This impacts the film in three ways. The first is that it provides some mild amusement. You might think that sounds like soft praise, which is fair because it’s the softest praise I’ve ever given. This is a film that aims at mild amusement and so it would be remiss of me not to mention that it was mission accomplished in some instances.
The second effect impact is that it’s irritating. This kid is all kinds of undeserved smug, not least as the character is so underwritten. There’s not much more to him than ‘besotted with his dad’ and ‘a bit like his dad’. This leads us to the third impact, which is that he contributes substantially to a trend within the film of people being very, very impressed with the title character.
We can see at least two of these points illustrated in a single scene. Lucky us. Dundees both senior and junior are strolling along Venice Beach when they encounter a woman on rollerblades. She heads straight into a meltdown, first attempting to seduce Mick and then convincing herself that he’s gay before leaving as eight-year-old Mikey Dundee comments that she’s got a nice arse.
Sadly, it doesn’t provide us with an example of the film being mildly amusing, with its ‘kids say the darnedest things!’ gag falling flat and the misunderstanding about Mick’s sexuality proving a calamitous misfire (he thinks she means gay as in happy, but selling the character as this naïve in the ’80s would have been a stretch and to try it in 2001 was the most ambitious thing attempted in the entire film).
We do have an example of the kid being irritating, though, and of a character being struck by an instant, overpowering attraction to Hogan’s Dundee. Although not a credited writer on the film (something we’ll get to in a bit), the brilliant, handsome and irresistible Hogan produced it and did contribute to the script. What a guy.
As Mick Dundee’s sex appeal has only become distilled and more powerful, so too has his ability to communicate with animals. It’s now beyond ‘man more in touch with nature than we’d realised was possible’ and has evolved into a superpower. Dundee is able to make an instant connection with a performing chimp on a film set and is immediately hired as his handler. The director probably fancied him. Dundee, I mean. Not the chimp.
While Mick is busy launching his career as an unqualified but magical animal handler, Sue’s investigation into a movie studio soon uncovers a criminal smuggling plot. Sue does not have anything fun to do in the entire film. Of course, she does manage to get kidnapped again. Sue is very much the Daphne-off-Scooby-Doo of the Crocodile Dundee world. For goodness sake, Sue.
Brilliantly, the action movie studio Sue is investigating make terrible-sounding trashy films, such as Lethal Agent 2. They play like 80s studio Cannon, if Cannon had been evil rather than just nuts. Sue’s investigation eventually crosses over with Mick’s job as Dr Doolittle on the studio lot and there’s a particularly damp showdown with the crooks (who you’d be hard pressed to remember as the credits roll, with perhaps the exception of the recognisable Jonathan Banks, some years before his career defining role as Breaking Bad’s Mike Erhmantraut). It’s as perfunctory a central plot as you’re likely to encounter.
If the plot appears to be a bit of a shrug, then you’d have to reason that the main concern is placing the character in uncomfortable situations. It works well on occasion, such as when Mick’s accent means Hollywood socialites are delighted with his stories about his friend Mal Gibson. Sketches are plonked into the film clumsily with little set up. So, we have a scene where Mick can’t work the controls on a fancy, remote controlled bath. Chaos ensues! Later, Mick and Mikey rescue a skunk from the side of the road, but thanks to a mix up local police believe it’s a bomb scare. Further chaos ensues!
At this point, shouldn’t Mick be better at being out of his comfort zone? How many mishaps does he need to experience before he works out that if he doesn’t understand something he really should ask? He’s just too proud. By now Mick Dundee has been a fish out of water so many times that he should have evolved a more adaptable breathing system. As we as a species look to venture further into the deep unknown of the ocean, the answers could very well lie in the lungs of Crocodile Dundee. Probably not though.
The effect of the soft central plot, character-centric sketches and cheap look of the film is that Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles ends up feeling like a TV special rather than a film with a theatrical release. In fact, it really has the feel of Saved By The Bell: Wedding In Las Vegas, the five episode ‘feature’ that came at the end of the teen sitcom’s run, from the structure to the way the jokes land to the cinematography. I have a bit of a soft spot for that Saved By The Bell film, but I can’t imagine it’s the comparison you’re hoping for when you make a follow on to a series of films that have both grossed over $100 million.
I’d wager that its episodic structure is a result of trying to put the main character in front of the camera doing what he does best as much as possible. Mick ‘Crocodile’ Dundee is still a good character. A great character, in fact. And while the film that has been built around him is not particularly good, I can understand what people who like this film are getting out of it. He’s simplistic without being stupid, he’s confused without being angry, he’s physically capable without being aggressive, and he’s always positive. Star Paul Hogan is a natural performer and is incredibly watchable.
I can also understand why the team behind the film made a family comedy. In a time when family comedies were far from thriving it was a brave decision, one we might think was made with good intentions. It feels like a good match for the character. For that, it’s hard to harbour ill will against the film, or even not to feel pangs of disappointment that they weren’t able to achieve what they’d hoped to. Even if they had succeeded in making a good family comedy, though, there’s no suggestion that the public appetite for such a film would have been any greater.
There was little public appetite for such a film at all, it turned out. Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles managed to rouse just $25 million at the US box office, a slither of the grosses of the first two films in the series.
Critically, the film landed some distance from adored. Roger Ebert’s review noted how likeable the character was, but concluded that “If he knew the secret of making movies, there’d be no stopping the bloke.” Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes has the film down as 11% fresh, which is a very poor percentage of freshness.
Without doubt, the most interesting thing about Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles is the dispute over the screenwriting credit. The film is credited to writers Matt Berry (not that one) and Eric Abrams, with a based on characters by credit for Paul Hogan. Hogan, however, attributed the script solely to himself. Abrams and Berry refuted that, and so a panel at the WGA (Writers Guild of America) reviewed drafts of the script (the original draft by Abrams and Berry and the second draft by Hogan) and ruled that Abrams and Berry would get full credit, with nothing for Hogan. Hogan appealed, but another WGA panel ruled the same way.
Of note in this is that Abrams and Berry have never disputed Hogan’s input, and had the star not contested their contribution, he would have retained a credit as a screenwriter on the film. WGA rules, in place to protect writers, mean that a producer, as Hogan was on the film, has to have written a higher percentage of the movie than would otherwise qualify for a credit. Hogan subsequently threatened to sue the WGA.
Writer Berry shed some light on the issue in an interview with the How Did This Get Made? podcast. Berry talks about how he and Abrams wrote the first draft, before sending it off to Hogan for him to write the second draft. Hogan then rewrote every word in the script, but the actual changes were just incidental details and a few punchlines. Berry goes on to explain that he and Abrams had taken the job as it was particularly lucrative, and that in order to be paid the full amount they needed to be credited on the film. As such, they found themselves in a public battle to receive credit for a film they weren’t particularly keen to be associated with.
The indifferent response and troubled production have been enough to pen Crocodile Dundee back in his natural habitat for at least the fifteen years that have followed. It’s hard to imagine circumstances that might trigger another Mick Dundee adventure.
If the character were to return, modern trends that have seen films like Lethal Weapon and Rush Hour adapted might suggest a return on TV. Alternatively, there’s nothing to say that Hogan might not be willing to work with an Australian production company, working outside of the Hollywood system. It’s hard to imagine Hollywood getting behind a remake, unless a way to make it for $150 million presents itself.
If there was concern that the Crocodile Dundee series had run out of steam after the second entry, this belated sequel would appear to confirm that things have ground to a halt. It’s a hard film to enthuse about, but it’s not a painfully bad or offensive one. It’s positive and you get the feeling that a few people were really working hard, if in the wrong direction and without much ambition. I can understand working hard on something that has no ambition.
This is a 2500 word article about how Crocodile Dundee 3 is average.
This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.