Reviewed by Sandra Hall, Sydney Morning Herald
September 3, 2009

View the trailer

FORTY years have gone by since Paul Hogan modernised the character of the Ocker for television audiences, adding a knowing air of nonchalance to the old bush stereotype.

Now he's rich and he often sounds sour with it, his old amiability muddied by the complications that go with fame. So he's perfect for the curmudgeon he plays in Charlie & Boots, co-starring with the screen's new Ocker comic hero, Shane Jacobson. Aptly enough, they're cast as father and son.

They also make an instructive study in contrasts. Jacobson's Ocker is big but not bluff while Hogan's lean muscularity has weathered over the years to the consistency of Crocodile Dundee's hat.

He's always been witty. Now he seems wily as well. Jacobson's appeal, on the other hand, rests on a sweet-natured and seemingly guileless candour stiffened by a healthy self-respect and a highly efficient bulldust detector. In Kenny (2006), his supremely successful screen debut, he even made it possible to look kindly on the art of the fart joke.

The same good humour infuses his performance here. As Boots, he is taking time off from his job as a salesman in a Victorian country town to go back to the family farm and try to cheer up his father, Charlie, after the sudden death of Boots's mother, Grace. Charlie doesn't want to be cheered up. He's enjoying his misery - a state of mind that Hogan expresses very credibly - but Boots perseveres. He has decided they will go on a fishing trip. Only later does he disclose the fact that the spot he's chosen is at the other end of the country in Cape York.

And so we embark on a road movie that offers a series of simple but singular pleasures, most of which stem from the way in which Charlie and Boots begin to relax in one another's company.

The film's writer-director, Dean Murphy, and his co-writer, Stewart Faichney, worked with Hogan on Strange Bedfellows, the comedy he did with Michael Caton, but this one has an easier feel to it, probably because there's less plot to worry about. It's imbued with an appealing air of happenstance together with the illusion that these are characters who have and will pursue an existence beyond the frame.

Murphy grew up on a Victorian dairy farm and there is no surprise in learning that his ideas about Charlie were drawn from memories of his own father and the joy he took from living on the land.

The storyline is woven out of a string of vignettes, bringing some of the country's most watchable screen faces into play. Val Lehman shows up as the leader of a gang of lady bowlers in the grip of road rage. Anne Phelan is a truckie who gives Charlie the eye and Roy Billing appears in the final lap as the perilously insouciant pilot of a light plane.

There is a bruising misadventure at a rodeo, where Boots is conned by Charlie into riding a buckjumper, and a cheering encounter with a teenage hitchhiker (Morgan Griffin) who is clearly destined for a big career in country music if only our heroes can get her to Tamworth in time to sing at the festival.

Unfolding with it all is the story of father and son's fractured relationship and how it got that way. This revelation involves an unexpected infusion of tragedy, but Murphy handles the change of tone so well that mawkishness is never a possibility.

Hogan eventually shrugs off his air of dry implacability to display the charm of his glory days and Jacobson gradually unwraps the sadness underpinning Boots's eagerness to please his father. It's a delicate manoeuvre but again Jacobson's instincts as an actor take him right to the heart of things.