Charm has a power all its own and Paul Hogan was born with full buckets. That impish smile, the fact that he never took himself seriously, the self-deprecation of the very excellent character he created for Crocodile Dundee in 1986, the physical grace.
Nobody cared that he couldn’t act, all he had to do was deliver some good lines and keep a straight face.
There followed worldwide fame and catastrophic success: marriage gone, health gone, investigation by the tax office, exile in LA, another marriage gone and a string of awful movies — a point he concedes several times in the new movie.
Yet nothing seemed to dent his confidence that the public does indeed want another Paul Hogan comedy 35 years after the last good one.
Here he is at 80, dragging himself off the couch of his Hollywood mansion to play a version of himself. As in so many of his plots, he’s a stranger in a strange land, the la-la land of Los Angeles, a Twilight Zone of media-driven madness.
The idea is simple and might have worked. A man who has everything — money, public affection, reputation — loses it all in a series of spectacularly embarrassing public gaffes brought about his failure to understand that the world has changed.
‘The laughs, in almost every case, depend on the support cast.’
He drops a nun with a badly aimed water bottle while trying to help Olivia Newton-John at a charity gig, he upsets black America with comments that make him look like a racist, he ends up in a fight with little kids when he tries to stop a Hollywood Boulevard imitator of himself (played by Shane Jacobson) from ripping off the public.
His long-suffering manager, Angie (Rachael Carpani), tries to shut down the scandal, lest it jeopardise a knighthood. A chubby mid-western loser (Nate Torrence) invades his mansion, trying to start a career as a paparazzo. Hoges takes pity on him and extends a hand.
From the first movie, Hogan and his manager, John Cornell, surrounded his act with experienced and reliable comic support: John Meillon, Reggie VelJohnson, David Gulpilil. Peter Faiman directed the first movie with safe hands, having worked with Hogan on his TV series. Hogan too was on his game: confident, cheeky, handsome and seemingly outside the showbiz mainstream, with all its falsity.
Things went downhill after that, perhaps because Hogan became part of that mainstream. The Very Excellent Mr Dundee sees him taking that world apart, with some success.
Hollywood is full of fat targets and he lines up quite a few, enlisting an A-list of once-weres to drive over them — literally, in the case of John Cleese playing a rogue limo driver. Some of this is funny, but when the success of the movie depends on satirical take-down rather than the pleasure of well-timed gags, that movie is in trouble.
It doesn’t help that Hogan can no longer keep a straight face. He telegraphs every joke, forgetting to play the straight man. He’s paired with others who still remember how to do it, such as Cleese, and Chevy Chase, who steals any scene he’s in.
A stronger director might have pointed this out to the star, but Dean Murphy has been with Hogan through a number of movies, none of which distinguished themselves by the rigour of their direction. The laughs, in almost every case, depend on the support cast rather than the star.
Hogan tries to remain unruffled, but appears bemused and somewhat confused as his world crumbles. That might be what Paul Hogan is really like but he plays himself rather badly here, more self-aware than self-confident. The satire is as laboured as his nonchalance.
Paul Byrnes is a film critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.