Paul Hogan, writer-star of "Crocodile Dundee" (which opens Friday at selected theaters), is a leathery-looking, boiled-to-the-bone kind of fellow. He has a crinkly smile, ice-blue eyes and seemingly infallible charm: macho , but unthreatening. He probably could hold a knife at your throat, and still not ruffle you. However sharp the knife, he could rattle off a dry, wry "G'day, chum!," and you'd be convinced it was all in fun.
That sunny, reassuring personality is at the heart of "Dundee," a movie Hogan designed and co-wrote for himself. He is an Australian TV personality--here, best known for his TV ads for Australian travel and Foster lager--and, like many successful TV "communicators," he's supremely comfortable on camera; he seems in complicity with the audience.
The movie has another "fish out-of-water" story. Hogan's rough-hewn hero, Mick Dundee, is a crocodile-poaching Aussie guide and adventurer who gains notoriety after a particularly savage reptile encounter. Posthaste, a sexy, feisty Newsday reporter, Sue Charlton (Linda Koslowski), comes calling.
The reporter travels with Dundee to the outback (she has quite a wardrobe in her backpack), where they catch crocodiles, bask in the scenery, do a little erotic-philosophical jousting and meet a jive-talking aborigine (David Gulpilil of "Walkabout"). Then the arena shifts to her turf: Dundee takes a suite at Manhattan's Plaza and finds himself in competition with Sue's amorous editor, her privileged family, social values and the city's pitfalls. Are they any match for this Aussie cowboy, his blade, his Down Under chutzpah, his unflappably affable disposition? Take a guess.
That's it for the story--certainly no gem of originality. But it doesn't really have to be. Everything in the film is designed to show off Hogan--and, secondarily, Koslowski--to their best advantage: to sell us on Koslowski's bemused grin, sleek thighs and killer eyes, on Hogan's warm equanimity and icy competence. And it does. Peter Faiman is Hogan's usual TV director, and both of them know exactly where the gold lies in his persona and the way to deploy it through the predictable twists of the plot (shove him up against muggers, winos, snobs, waiters and all the other hazards of Manhattan).
Charm and personality are most of what "Crocodile Dundee" has to offer, and they're peddled with panache. There's an amiable lope about this movie; some of the jokes are cruel, but they're never forced. An adventure movie without real villains, a travelogue without hard sells, a romantic comedy without serious conflicts, it has an almost lullingly serene, well-adjusted tempo. You could describe it, without exaggeration, as "laid-back."
This kind of weightless, amiable approach, of course, has its drawbacks. The film makers have a peculiarly unconvincing view of Long Island society and of newspaper publishing, and often veer right into the simplest sitcom homilies.
But it's a tribute to the consistency of Hogan's character that you imagine other areas you'd like him to wander through: SoHo, Greenwich Village or the fringes of Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant. The writers here--Australians all--don't dig past the surface of New York, but to their credit they take a real tourist's delight in showing us that surface. Russell Boyd, Peter Weir's cinematographer on "Gallipoli," lights both the Australian outback and the wilderness around Times Square and Columbus Circle with the same easy grace: Manhattan hasn't looked this quirkily inviting since "Moscow on the Hudson."
Certainly "Crocodile Dundee" (PG-13) is nothing you can examine deeply or mull over afterward. It's simply an expert crowd-pleaser. It has such a sure, easy, confident touch that it's almost failure-proof--like a tip of the hat, a sip of beer, a quick, golden "G'day."
'CROCODILE DUNDEE' A Paramount Pictures release. Producer John Cornell. Director Peter Faiman. Script Paul Hogan, Ken Shadie, Cornell. Camera Russell Boyd. Music Peter Best. Line producer Jane Scott. Editor David Stiven. Production design Graham (Grace) Walker. With Paul Hogan, Linda Koslowski, John Meillon, David Gulpilil, Mark Blum, Michael Lombard.
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (parents are strongly cautioned; some material may be inappropriate for children under 13).