Outback in the saddle

Movie: Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles

Our Rating: 3.50

Like an old pal who reappears after a long absence, lovable frontiersman Mick "Crocodile" Dundee turns up " -- in Los Angeles" and finds a few chuckles in the city of angels.

The last we saw of him was in 1988's "Crocodile Dundee II," the sequel to the 1986 original. That fertile period came right after Mick, er, Paul Hogan, became known as an Australian-tourism pitchman prone to "slip another shrimp on the barbie."

As the title of the new film indicates, Mick is once again a fish out of water. And just as before, he's mildly amusing, family-friendly and gosh-darn down-to-Earth. It's a brand of humor that can be traced back through 'The Beverly Hillbilliesâ?� and on to Ma & Pa Kettle. It's also a schtick that can quickly wear thin, so maybe Hogan was smart to wait 13 years since his last visit.

Thrusting the level-headed Australian into Beverly Hills and Hollywood provides plenty of material for good-natured satire, as our hero marvels at the doings of folks who have more dollars than sense. Who else would put up with coffee enemas, drive-by muggings or multitudinous varieties of plain ol' water?

As for plot, well, there isn't any heavy lifting there, either. The Dundee family -- Mick plus girlfriend Sue (Linda Kozlowski, Hogan's real-life mate) and their son, Mikey (likable newcomer Serge Cockburn) -- come to L.A. when Sue is assigned to replace an editor at her father's newspaper. That editor died under suspicious circumstances while investigating a new movie studio; when Sue picks up the mystery's trail, Mick figures out that the studio is involved in a smuggling scheme and determines to set things straight.

Directing is Simon Wincer, who's slumming a bit. His work on the great "Lonesome Dove" TV series showed that he can do far more (though he can also overdo, as he did in the treacly "Free Willyâ?�). Here, his main concern is a collection of quick edits that visually affirm that our hero is still quicker than a real croc, a pistol-wielding gang-banger or even a menacing lioness. Balancing this relentless physicality is a garden-variety wisdom that carries every day, even when its possessor is doing silly things like stopping freeway traffic to search for a lost dog.

In many ways, the Dundee franchise carries more charm than, say, Disney material. Its humor remains suitable for youngsters yet doesn't gouge their psyches with the "circle of life" and "you can do it" self-esteem lessons that by this time have become pretty tiresome.

Instead, everything is just about the same as it was on this croc's last visit -- except, that is, for his 60-year-old skin, which is showing serious signs of sun damage. Maybe he'd better not wait another 13 years until his next walkabout our way.

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