***/**** Image B- Sound C-
starring Paul Hogan, Linda Kozlowski, Mark Blum, John Meillon
screenplay by Paul Hogan, Ken Shadie and John Cornell
directed by Peter Faiman
"CROCODILE" DUNDEE II
½*/**** Image B Sound B Extras D
starring Paul Hogan, Linda Kozlowski, John Meillon, Hechter Ubarry
screenplay by Paul Hogan and Brett Hogan
directed by John Cornell
by Bill Chambers It's possible that the monster success of "Crocodile" Dundee--a low-budget Australian import starring the international spokesman for Foster's Lager and Australian tourism--seems like temporary mass hysteria these days. In America, the film was the second-biggest release of 1986 (after Top Gun), earning more than the combined grosses of eventual perennials Aliens and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Paul Hogan even won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical. (The screenplay, co-written by Hogan, was, yes, nominated for an Oscar; Hannah and Her Sisters claimed the prize.) But in the years since, the term "Crocodile Dundee" has become derogatory shorthand for the outdoorsy Australian, and the notoriously generous IMDb voters currently have the movie at a Grinchy 6.5/10. It's a film that has been curiously immune to '80s/childhood nostalgia, as the tardy, Razzie-nominated second sequel either confirmed or guaranteed.
I myself saw "Crocodile" Dundee when it came out, in the fall of 1986 (at age 11), and adored it. I bought a previously-viewed copy on VHS and hung the poster, which had a gentle surrealism in the image of Paul Hogan parting New York City's canyons like the Red Sea that appealed to my burgeoning artistic side. Above all, though, it was a memento of a film that made me and evidently millions of other people feel pretty good. I think the movie has a number of instantly-iconic moments--"That's not a knife" the one that's endured and that the sequel was obliged to recreate--that galvanized its popularity by becoming shared cultural memes. (The trailer showed uncanny foresight in identifying them--or perhaps it predetermined them.) It also recognized the value of adapting an evergreen like Tarzan for the '80s, even though there had already been two previous attempts to revive the moribund character earlier in the decade. "Crocodile" Dundee succeeded where Tarzan the Ape Man and Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes failed because it remembered not only to keep in the vein of the archetypal Weissmuller-O'Sullivan Tarzans, but also to remake their funniest outing (Tarzan's New York Adventure).1 What the modern reboot industry doesn't get is that while audiences love being told the same stories over and over again, a brand name just as often represents the baggage of legacy as it does credibility.
Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski) is a photojournalist for NEWSDAY who decides while doing a series on Australia to interview Mick "Crocodile" Dundee (Hogan), an Outback tour guide so named because he allegedly lost his leg in a skirmish with a crocodile. It's mostly an exaggeration (when they meet, Mick lifts his pant leg to reveal a circular scar he calls a "love bite"), but Sue decides to report on the experience of going on walkabout with Mick anyway, and the articles that come out of that three-day excursion make him a rock star back in New York. (Evidently when the legend became fact for her, she chose to print the legend.) Where she finds the equipment to write and transmit these pieces is anyone's guess and beside the point: Urbane Sue and rugged Mick bond in the wild, with a crocodile attack proving particularly instrumental in throwing them together romantically. Mick, who's never left Australia, returns with her to the Big Apple, where he becomes the toast of high society and discovers competition for Sue's affections in the form of her smarmy editor (Mark Blum, the guy you'd get when William Atherton wasn't available). Mainly Mick puts his unique set of survival skills to use in the concrete jungle.
"Crocodile" Dundee is neatly bifurcated into Australia and New York halves, but the perfect symmetry of Sue and Mick trading places as the fish out of water is thrown off balance by the script not quite knowing what to do with Sue on her home turf and disappearing her for long stretches, presumably so as not to saddle Mick with Emily Post while he misreads big-city social cues to ostensibly hilarious effect. (This will happen again in the sequels, where Sue and Mick hardly ever seem to be in the same location.) Of course, the picture is also lopsided because the filmmakers--producer/co-writer John Cornell and director Peter Faiman were veterans of Paul Hogan's eponymous sketch-comedy show--are by and large in the same boat as Mick, and their once-verisimilitudinous vision falls back on the safety of cliché. The living, breathing local colour of the Australia section is replaced by hoary stereotypes, although the fact that they belong to a pre-Giuliani conception of the city gives the movie a vulgar charge it really didn't have in '86, when it was a contemporary of TV shows like "The Equalizer". Since this was the Eighties, alas, the film's retrograde notions sometimes volley back on the hero in simple bad taste. A gratuitously transphobic thread, for instance, has Mick shaming a person in drag who's been hitting on him at a bar (to the other patrons' ugly applause) and later cupping the genitals of Sue's deep-voiced lady editor to "check," as if that's now a necessity. Fortunately Mick's Aussie Other-ness makes the woman feel flattered to be groped, like E.T. turned on his heartlight for her or something.
As a child I definitely preferred the New York material, since it moved faster and was instantly relatable (if only to other media representations of NYC), but in retrospect these are minor virtues compared to the melancholy beauty of the Australia portion, which as a bonus has obvious roots in the national cinema--with references to Walkabout, Wake in Fright, and other seminal works of Ozploitation--that offer something extra for the student of film.2 That said, the rousing climax, a variation on the old airport confession of love, sends the picture--and us--out on a high note with an affirmation of the essential New York character (brotherly, romantic), as a crowded subway station pulls together to help Sue3 confess her love for Mick. It's equal parts sweet and redeeming.
"Sweet" is probably the last word I'd use to describe 1988's "Crocodile" Dundee II. Discounting a ridiculous prologue that has Mick tossing sticks of dynamite in the Hudson River to catch fish (the cops dismiss this with a hearty chuckle--Mick's affability and guilelessness apparently obtain him a degree of diplomatic immunity), the sequel begins promisingly enough with Mick feeling palpably homesick, undercutting the idea of happily ever after forwarded by the ending of the original. He now resides in a penthouse with Sue,4 a kept man. But Mick wants to work, less to assert his manhood--credit where credit is due, he may call women "sheila"s and succumb easily to gay panic, but across three films he's not the least bit threatened by Sue's career and breadwinning--than because he's bored. He takes a job delivering stationary that lasts all of one stop before the terrible plot kicks in: Sue's do-gooder ex-husband Bob (Dennis Boutsikaris)--who's actually mentioned in "Crocodile" Dundee, in a strangely impressive bit of continuity--photographs a cartel hit and sends the evidence to Sue for safekeeping. Unfortunately for her, Bob's phone is bugged, and soon drug lord Rico (Hechter Ubarry) kidnaps Sue, whisking her away to a seemingly tropical pocket of upstate New York. Because Sue doesn't have Bob's roll of film on her person, it's up to Mick to deliver it to them, though naturally he's much more interested in rescuing Sue. Enlisting a punk gang to help him storm the castle, as it were, Mick manages to get Sue back, but because Rico remains a threat, the couple hightails it to Australia in self-imposed witness protection. What are the odds they'll think to look for the celebrity tourist from Down Under in his own backyard?
Clearly the picture aimed to be a clever inverse of the original, but there had to be a better way to get to Australia. Whatever the franchise's debt to Tarzan, who experienced no shortage of danger from human threat, there's a patent, almost fanfic absurdity to building a "Crocodile" Dundee sequel towards a violent, True Grit-style standoff, one that takes up most of the second and third acts of the picture. It's audacious in its defiance of expectations, no doubt, but there's no pleasure in the unconventionality. Square Mick and Sue and the malicious villains (who kill Bob) have the most perversely mismatched temperaments since spies armed with chloroform went after the titular mutt in For the Love of Benji. It's among the more vexing incongruities in a film featuring a black dealer of office supplies (the great Charles S. Dutton) who at once dresses like Dolemite so people won't recognize how bourgeois he is and serves as Mick's entrée to the lily-white punk club where Mick recruits the Warriors (more or less).
Taking over for the not-untalented Faiman, director John Cornell shows little affinity for the pacing of suspense or comedy (which may be one and the same), letting his widescreen tableaux run on endlessly without cuts like he's Blake Edwards, minus even the decayed charm of '80s Edwards. (In the immortal words of Roger Ebert, "I've seen audits that were more thrilling [than "Crocodile" Dundee II].") Hogan, who had that great moment demolishing his masculinity in "Crocodile" Dundee where Mick switched from shaving with a Bic disposable to a knife upon spotting Sue in his periphery, comes across as though he's auditioning for a spot in the modern action pantheon alongside Schwarzenegger: laying traps, shooting put-upon best friend Walt (John Meillon, dead within a year of production, probably from getting jerked around the Outback) in the face to demonstrate his mercilessness, and in true Tarzan fashion siccing the wildlife on the bad guys. Gone is the humility from Hogan's performance--he's bought into the character's bogus mysticism. It's a mistake to try to reinvent an actor from within the role that made him an icon, and it's telling, really, that Mick is literally wearing Rico's black clothes by the end of the movie.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Paramount's "Double Feature" Blu-ray release of the first two films in the trilogy lacks finesse. "Crocodile" Dundee's 2.35:1, 1080p transfer is pleasingly grainy (except during the title sequence--heavily DVNR'd, I presume, to tone down optical noise), but the source betrays pinhole artifacts and other signs of debris, and the image has a tendency to exhibit the sort of dimness you'd expect at a movie theatre trying to conserve the bulb life of the projector. There isn't any black crush, per se, yet dynamic range is lacking in midtones, while some subtle smearing of detail could be the by-product of slight gatefloat--although any softness is most likely attributable to the picture's anamorphic lensing. Meanwhile, "Crocodile" Dundee II's 2.35:1, 1080p transfer is marginally sharper, partly due to minor edge enhancement that at worst overamplifies the grain. It's also more lustrous, but whites at their brightest are overexposed, with the white opening credits fogging up from running hot. Still, this is the better-preserved film of the two, boasting a cleaner, richer appearance in HiDef.
Sadly, "Crocodile" Dundee's 2.0 DTS-HD MA track, which decodes to stereo surround, suffers from a clipped high end and thick bass. The twangy guitar and sweeping strings of Peter Best's title music are all but cancelled out by the low end; the score has frankly never sounded more muddy and indistinct. (Even the horn-driven New York theme lacks its familiar brassy punch.) Again the sequel, encoded in 5.1 DTS-HD MA, proves technically superior, though as Best's music isn't as prevalent in the movie proper, it's apples and oranges. This is a 2-disc set that appends each film with its theatrical trailer, bumped up to HD. The "Crocodile" Dundee II platter additionally includes a vintage, clips-heavy behind-the-scenes featurette, shot on film but mastered on shitty, interlaced video. It's the usual sales pitch, without the hyperactive pacing of today's equivalent--and Hogan doesn't bother to put on a shirt for his talking-head. I'm disappointed that Paramount has yet to make available stateside the longer, allegedly more profane Australian cut of "Crocodile" Dundee, a version that for starters dispenses with those quotation marks. This would've been the time to do it.
1. If any doubts about the movie's homage to the MGM Tarzan cycle aren't put to rest the moment Sue utters the word "escarpment," or during the brief scene in which Sue and Mick go for a tranquil swim in a lagoon, or by Sue's privilege and betrothal to an entitled prick, they will be by the time Sue says the "t" word and Mick chokes out a parody of Weissmuller's yodel. Verbalizing it does somehow breach the fourth wall, but perhaps it'd be more unnatural if nobody ever said anything. return
2. Speaking of, er, seminal, the glimpse of Kozlowski's bethonged derrière possibly meant more to a generation of schoolboys than all the T&A in teen comedies because it was legit, smuggled into a film sold as family entertainment. And the Jaws-style jump-scare that immediately follows was a real reverie interruptus that played like a cruel prank on us gaga kids. return
3. She's forced to shed her high heels while running to the station, completing her symbolic transformation into post-Tarzan Jane. return
4. Kozlowski, dating Hogan offscreen at this point, gets the glamour filters she was denied in the first film, plus a platinum-blonde dye job that is Monroe-esque, or at least Monroe impersonator-esque. While it sure turned my crank in '88, in hindsight I miss original-recipe Sue. return