Directed by: Peter Faiman || Produced by: John Cornell
Screenplay by: John Cornell, Ken Shadie, Paul Hogan || Starring: Paul Hogan, Linda Kozlowski, Alan Dunlea, John Meillon, Terry Gill David Gulpilil, Reginald VelJohnson, Steve Rackman
Music by: Peter Best || Cinematography: Russell Boyd || Edited by: David Stiven || Country: Australia || Language: English
Running Time: 104 minutes
We North Americans love to be obsessed with the stereotypes of other cultures. In the 1960’s, there was the British invasion lead by, among others, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and the Who, and for a couple decades United States mainstream culture was saturated by British lingo, swagger, and marketable cultural identifiers from the Isles. Much of the 1990’s saw a Hispanic/Latin American trend that was populated by mainstream infatuation of things like Shakira, Enrique Iglesias, Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, and of course the insufferable La Macarena song-and-dance craze. Nowadays, the “in” exotic culture that North Americans can’t get enough of is Asia, specifically east-Asian countries like Japan, Korea, and of course China. Perhaps you noticed a little K-Pop song by a guy named Psy that became popular over the past few years (mimicking the dance craze of La Macarena decades earlier), the rise of American obsession with sushi, and the fact that virtually every guy wants to date an Asian girl nowadays (I’m not kidding on that last one, look it up).
This brings me to the topic of our brief obsession with Australian stereotypes and everything we thought we knew and loved about the land Down Under in the 1980’s. Paul Hogan’s concept of Crocodile Dundee (CD) went a long way toward popularizing Australian culture (re: stereotypes) with American masses, which is fitting considered the film was originally conceived as a deliberate mass-market attempt to appeal to American consumers. However, no one making the movie could’ve predicted its wild financial success as it went on to become a global phenomenon in the months following its release.
What makes CD so interesting even compared to America’s other shallow, fleeting obsessions with foreign stereotypes is that Hogan himself and everyone involved with the movie had an endearing attachment to the concept of a campy, nature-savvy Australian folk hero like the Dundee. To quote Hogan himself:
“There’s a lot about Dundee that we all think we’re like; but we’re not, because we live in Sydney. He’s a mythical outback Australian who does exist in part—the frontiersman who walks through the bush, picking up snakes and throwing them aside, living off the land, who can ride horses and chop down trees and has that simple, friendly, laid-back philosophy. It’s like the image the Americans have of us, so why not give them one?… We’ve always been desperately short of folk heroes in this country. Ned Kelly is pathetic. So are the bushrangers.“
In other words, this Australian embracing of a hopelessly campy but also endearing redneck stereotype is a sort of idealized fantasy concocted by Hogan. The best part of the film is that its filmmakers, most of all Hogan, have such a great sense of humor that they’re not afraid to run with stereotypical impressions other consumer cultures (particularly North America) have of them. CD is a fascinating case study of the cultural commodification habits of mainstream consumer society, made even more amusing by the fact that all the makers of CD were in on the joke.
The overall quality of the movie itself is less resounding, but altogether it’s hard not to like Paul Hogan’s creation. There are dumb scenes like female lead Linda Kozlowski stripping down to a thong in the Outback, and the rushed conclusion of Dundee’s trip to New York is disappointing, but Hogan is so likable as a walking, talking, stereotyped Aussie folk hero that you tend to look pass all that. The gags where Dundee nonchalantly picks up venomous snakes and throws them aside or explains Outback lore to Kozlowski are great, as are the fish-out-of-water jokes in New York where Dundee must not only confront city life, but also American cultural stereotypes. My personal favorite is Dundee’s encounter with a fearsome escalator, something that freaks out our hero far more than killing a saltwater crocodile with his bare hands.
Other than this film’s role as a cultural commodity for outside consumption though, there’s not much to discuss about CD. It’s a straightforward, reliable romantic comedy with cultural satire elements to it. It’s at times hopelessly silly and more than a little crude, but again that’s the whole point. CD is basically Hogan and company laughing at themselves and the outside world who see them as such, satirizing Outback folklore and the exotification of their homeland. The main strength of the film is of course Hogan’s performance and screen presence, and that’s more than enough to make the movie worth your time.
What foreign culture will the United States and Canada be obsessed with next? Who knows for sure, but I’m willing to bet it’ll involve exuberant dancing, curry, and head-bobbling… if you know what I mean.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Paul Hogan is a man who embraces his native stereotype to the fullest extent of cinematic law, and has a pretty good time doing it. His jokes and personality are well placed, smart, and entertaining. The contrast in flavors between Dundee’s native Outback and the concrete jungle of New York City is good, albeit predictable screenwriting. If only they had let Hogan do his inner city walkabout…
— However… Kozlowksi is noticeably less interesting than her male lead. The final moments in NYC feel abbreviated.
? Imagine seven million people all wanting to live together. Yeah, New York must be the friendliest place on earth!