The sequel to the runaway Aussie hit of 1986 (which managed to net both $360 million and a surprise Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay), opens with Mick “Crocodile” Dundee doing some fishing. Blasting dynamite is his method of choice, and he’s at peace in what seems like a wilderness, until a cut reveals the location to be New York City harbor. Boated policemen arrive mere seconds after the blast, only to give Dundee a pass and a smile unlikely to greet any foreigner handling explosives near downtown Manhattan nowadays. Following this clean and efficient start, scored to Peter Best’s guitar-heavy signature theme, the film starts making its steady way to cinematic hell.
After having peddled the beauty of his native continent to American TV viewers (and before becoming a spokesman for Subaru), Paul Hogan rehashed a number of old movie plots in the first Crocodile Dundee film, which he co-wrote and starred in. Tarzan merged with Mr. Deeds and went to town as a single character. Even though there was some spontaneity to the first movie, by 1988 Hogan’s rugged assembly had calcified into a deliberate look, his leather jacket looking fresh off the rack and the crocodile teeth in his cowboy hat all freshly brushed.
The sequel’s script, written by Paul and Brett Hogan, is a grab-bag of ideas, none original and most barely carried out. What starts like an update on Mick’s assimilation in New York City (where he functions mostly as a playground hit) is then interrupted by his girlfriend, Sue (Linda Kozlowski), being kidnapped by a Colombian drug lord, Rico (Hechter Ubarry). Cue a Dirty Dozen-like rescue fantasy with a bunch of NYC gang members, looking as if they were attending a Warriors-themed frat party. It all ends with a return to the outback, with Mick and Sue fleeing from Rico in a grueling trek and the film’s editor seemingly using every gorgeous nature shot by Russell Boyd that was scrapped from the original movie. Thus, the structure of the first film—a fish-out-of-water comedy with two fishes and a midway switch of ponds—gets repeated here, albeit in reverse order and with none of the original zest.
Crocodile Dundee positioned Mick both as a fraud adventurer and a genuine wild child: a yokel Kaspar Hauser. He might have lied and exaggerated his exploits as a hunter, but he was purer than his New York surroundings. Hookers, pimps, cocaine, not to mention bidets, were all new to him as products of big-city corruption. Even his homophobia was sold as comic innocence. After having been hit on by a transvestite, Mick formed a habit of clutching people’s crotches, livestock-style, to determine gender whenever it was in doubt. (Some lessons are never learned: As late as the 2001 follow-up, Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, Mick got a shock upon stepping into a gay bar). Dundee suggested Charles Laughton’s Marmaduke Ruggles from Leo McCarey’s Ruggles of Red Gap in reverese: He was coming to America not to learn the virtue of self-reliance, but to find the place decadent and incomprehensible. By the end of the sequel it’s made clear that both he and Sue should live in the outback, since nothing good came of the whole American experiment.
The sequel exacerbates problems already too evident in the first movie, most painfully the near-total disposability of Kozlowski’s Sue, who spends most of the time reacting to Mick’s quirks with chuckles. No battle of wits, no rejoinders. Sue accepts Mick’s ways wholesale; there’s never any hint at a possible tension between their lifestyles. (Both movies would have been much more fun had Sue the reporter actually tried to cynically exploit Mick and then fall in love with him in spite of herself, but you would probably need a Barbara Stanwyck for that.) Unlike Coming to America, released the same summer of ’88, Crocodile Dundee II doesn’t really make New York City into a strange and fascinating place to change the newcomer’s life forever. Mick looks at it, doesn’t get it, and makes his way back home with Sue at his side. That alone can make you mad, especially if all you ever wished for is to make the very transition Mick Dundee seems to reject in a heartbeat.
Michał Oleszczyk is a contributor to RogerEbert.com, as well as a scholar, festival programmer, and translator based in Kraków. His work has appeared at Fandor, Hammer to Nail, and IndieWire. He runs a blog at www.oleszczyk.blogspot.com and misses New York City every hour of every day.