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'The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee' Review: Paul Hogan back on the hunt, this time for a nap

In 'The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee,' 81-year-old Paul Hogan wrestles with whether or not to bother with a career revival everyone else wants more than him.

Rachel Carpani and Paul Hogan star in 'The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee.'
(Image: © Lionsgate)

Our Verdict

A latter-day 'Crocodile Dundee' sequel that manages to be better than it has any right to be - simply because it knows it's lucky to exist at all.

For

  • 🐊 Paul Hogan retains the same down-to-earth charm as in the earlier 'Dundee' films, welcoming the obscurity of old age.
  • 🐊 The film's jabs at 'cancel culture' are tongue in cheek and in on the jokes by making them at Hogan's expense.

Against

  • 🐊 A revolving door of supporting performers get storylines that fill more time than feeling, while more obvious sources of drama get ignored.

This may sound hard to believe, but it’s very possible I have not related to any film more strongly in 2020 than The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee, the story of a man whose main goal is to be left alone by the world so he can take a nap. Star Paul Hogan was 46 when he struck international paydirt with Crocodile Dundee in 1986, and he’s 81 now, by his own admission too old — and too tired — to try and relive former glories, much less update them for a generation that thinks he’s as dead as the late “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin. But this latest installment of the franchise takes a surprisingly effective, self-aware approach to legacyquels by basically arguing that it doesn’t need to exist and there’s about a thousand more reasons why it shouldn’t work, even if Hogan and a team of creative geniuses can figure out a reason to try.

Rather than portraying the fictional Aussie adventurer again, Hogan plays himself this time, a septuagenarian ex-actor living comfortably in Los Angeles with his son Chase (Jacob Elordi), and confidently unbothered by whether the world still loves him or not. After an incident at a wildlife park lands him in the tabloids, his manager Angie (Rachel Carpani) seizes on an opportunity to repair his career by to make a new Crocodile Dundee film and hopefully pave the way for a potential knighthood for his “services to comedy.” Initially uninterested in either offer, Hogan reluctantly obliges Angie, but finds himself in even hotter water when he gets “canceled” for rejecting an offer for Will Smith to play the son of a very white character married to another very white character. Before long, he becomes a magnet for increasing controversy when his attempts to perform damage control only make public opinion against him worse.

Connecting with friends like Olivia Newton-John and his Crocodile co-star Reginald VelJohnson and eventually consulting with celebrity controversy experts like Chevy Chase, Hogan eventually decides to bag his comeback plans. But after learning that his granddaughter Lucy (Charlotte Stent) is counting on his knighthood to repair her own reputation at a new school where she’s having trouble fitting in, Hogan reverses course and agrees to follow Angie’s plan with the hopes that he won’t put his foot in his mouth too badly too many more times before the damage becomes irreversible.

Taking potshots at “cancel culture” is low hanging fruit for aging celebrities, but in The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee, at least Hogan is willing to make fun of himself as he lampoons the media’s aptitude for turning any incident into a barometer for how good or bad a person may be. If your knowledge of Hogan is limited to the previous Dundee films, the movie highlights the breadth and variety of his career achievements beyond them (all in the opening credits, no less); but the plot and the making of the movie itself provides a convincing reason to believe his nice guy persona isn’t an act, as he enlists Newton-John, VelJohnson, Wayne Knight and others to play themselves in the fictional story of his life. Meanwhile Chase is so infamously a jerk that it can’t help but reflect upon him more flatteringly, and John Cleese makes an extended cameo as a rideshare driver that gives the British comedian a chance to pepper this redemption story with a few randy laughs (and participate in what will almost certainly be the final high-speed car chase of his career).

Carpani’s role as Hogan’s put-upon manager provides the film with a Greek chorus to react to each new indignity he suffers and register its impact on his career, while this genteel ex-star regards them with the appropriate level of embarrassment for a person in their late 70s whose goals have shrunk to the simple pleasures of watching Ellen (well, a few months ago anyway) while eating a good sandwich. Meanwhile, Elordi has almost nothing to do as his twentysomething son, evidently running a discotheque out of his bedroom when he’s not leading aerobic workouts in their back yard. But Hogan still carries the same down-to-earth charm that made Dundee such a charmer three and a half decades ago, and again understands that he can be the butt of a joke and be in on it enough to emerge without compromising his dignity.

Ultimately, Hogan’s latest (and presumably last) return to the franchise that made him an international star is not especially great — it’s a small movie for a finite audience — but it’s much better than anyone might expect it to be. That said, it provides an interesting coda to a career that viewers outside his native Australia likely did not get to see, and in a way suggests a few life goals for celebrities who are getting older — or for anybody trying to hang onto glory days that are long gone. After all, if everything that Paul Hogan wants at 81 is a couple of hours’ sack time, maybe he’s earned it; we all spend a lot of time trying to keep busy and keep up and achieve, often making our progress harder than it has to be, and The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee makes a very good argument for the benefits of slowing down and getting a little rest.

The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee will be available to stream December 11th, 2020.