The Very Excellent Mr Dundee

Year: 2020
Production Co: Click Sounds Productions
Director: Dean Murphy
Writer: Dean Murphy/Robert Mond
Cast: Paul Hogan, Rachael Carpani, Olivia Newton John, Roy Billing, Shane Jacobson, Clayton Jacobson, Chevy Chase, Luke Bracey, Kerry Armstrong, Wayne Knight, John Cleese, Luke Hemsworth, Jim Jeffries, Costas Mandylor, Nate Torrence, Reginald VelJohnson, Richard Wilkins, Mel Gibson

It's like a performance art piece commenting not on bad movies, but unprofessionally bad movies. Despite Hollywood's longstanding (and deserved) reputation for lack of quality and originality, even the worst films that reach a global audience are competently structured and edited with effects technology appropriate to the genre and presumed budget.

If this was a clever effort not just to make a bad movie but a Plan 9 From Outer Space -level travesty where every single filmmaking discipline shows such a lack of finesse, they couldn't have done a better job of it.

The premise (one of them, anyway – it doesn't even have the benefit of a distinctive idea of what it's actually about) is that Paul Hogan, long having since disappeared from the public eye, returns to it through a series of political correctness gaffes that aren't his fault but land him in ever deeper hot water.

It's all coming on the heels of a planned knighthood they want to give him for services to the arts, so bad press is the last thing he needs – even though Hoges himself just stands, bewildered and bemused, in the middle of it all.

Most of the stress is felt by his Hollywood manager, Angie (Rachael Carpani), who keeps pleading with him to stay out of trouble. But trouble keeps finding Hoges in a series of mostly unrelated episodes that have no reason to exist apart from showcasing a bunch of bizarre cameos.

Roy Billing is hiking in the Hollywood Hills with him during an incident with a rattlesnake, then never mentioned again. John Cleese is an Uber driver who doesn't have a license and doesn't even know who's car he's driving. Chevy Chase plays himself, obsessed with the idea that he's an Oscar winner (he's not) and doing runners from restaurants.

Olivia Newton John keeps showing up to land Hoges in hijinks that just gets him in more trouble, from enraging diehard Grease fans to knocking out a nun. There's a repeated 'joke' about Wayne Knight (yes, Dennis from Jurassic Park) showing up at Hoges' house, desperate to hide from his shrewish wife.

He gets into a fight with a rubbish Crocodile Dundee impersonator on Hollywood Boulevard (Shane Jacobsen, game for it after starring with Hoges in Charlie and Boots but probably regretting it).

There are long running motifs about a car thief posing as a valet, a clueless paparazzi photographer stalking Hoges who becomes the very model of a supposedly funny sidekick that's so annoying you want to punch him in the face. Saddest of all is Kerry Armstrong, a brilliant and beautiful actress who deserves much more than showing up as a slightly pathetic final-reel love interest after work in films like Lantana.

But as sad as Armstrong's role is, I feel sorriest for Aussie actress Carpani and the guy who plays the pap photographer. They both probably thought it would be their big breaks in the American film market and they're both so eager and throw everything they've got into their roles, but they're so badly written and the performances so overegged – bordering on manic – they they come off worse than even the tired, barely-interested Hogan.

The continual non-sensical cameos aren't enough to jar you out of the film – you're never really in it because the entire running time is made up of lurching left turns to another misplaced aside or character.

And if that's not enough, sequences of Hoges and Angie driving down Hollywood Boulevard are done with that 50s technique of the actors in a car with an off-camera stage hand rocking it, footage of the (badly colour graded and weirdly focused) street passing around them added in post. The film was shot and in the can before COVID lockdowns, so such a cheap approach has no reason to exist.

When we think of one hit wonders of the 80s we usually think about music, but that's exactly what Hogan was. Crocodile Dundee was lightning in a bottle and a rigger on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the 60s probably thought he had as much chance of flying to Mars as being a Hollywood star, but it was a fairy tale we all loved and believed in (and a genuinely good movie to boot).

Neither of the two sequels landed and the few other projects Hogan chose to foster his Hollywood career misfired, cutting his career off before it started.

All of which makes this film a kind of meta-comment on a guy who never really had a lot of talent for this kind of thing (a skit comic isn't necessarily an actor) but got lucky with a single artifact that conquered the world. It's been a long fall for Hogan since Dundee in 1986, and this feels like the deafening thud at the bottom. Maybe he only did it to pay his huge tax bill, but I thought that stuff was all over.

The script is unforgivably bad and Hogan wasn't credited with contributing to it, but the direction is something else. Dean Murphy directed Charlie and Boots and Strange Bedfellows, both of which were perfectly competent and enjoyable, so I can only imagine Hogan had much more clout than he has talent as a writer or director and overruled Murphy on the day or during the edit with ideas that were simply terrible.

But to the film's credit, there's one funny musical number (that, again, has nothing to do with what comes immediately before or after it), and it does explain that weird fake trailer the Australian Tourism commission put out for a massive Dundee sequel with Danny McBride and Chris Hemsworth in it.

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