The concept of an Australian comedy featuring the once-in-a-lifetime pair-up of Paul Crocodile Dundee Hogan and Shane Kenny Jacobson would appear foolproof. And while this movie doesn't live up to all of its potential, Charlie & Boots (the sophomore effort of director Dean Murphy, who previously teamed up with Paul Hogan for 2004's Strange Bedfellows) is an endearing, poignant and sweet comedy-drama. This is a film infused with so much heart that even the feel-good clichés it occasionally employs seem charming. It's simply an ideal vehicle for its two primary stars.
The plot line is reasonably straightforward. After the tragic death of his beloved wife Grace (Thompson), Charlie (Hogan) - a hardworking farmer - is left devastated and withdrawn. On a whim, his older son Boots (Jacobson) decides to take an impromptu fishing trip with Charlie, as it could shake his old man out of the doldrums and perhaps repair the rift between them. Once Boots gets Charlie in the car, he informs him they'll be travelling from their Victorian hometown to Cape York (thousands of kilometres away) for a spot of fishing off the country's northernmost tip (a trip long promised but never accomplished). Charlie is at first none too co-operative, but Boots does his best to be upbeat. Along the way they pick up an attractive young female hitchhiker with boyfriend trouble (Griffin), and they fend off a succession of older women who are interested in Charlie.
This is a superbly relaxed, warm and good-natured movie that celebrates the relationship between father and son. Gradually, as the trip unfolds, an uneasy companionship emerges as the two begin to learn more about each other and the dramas that ruptured their lives. The movie exposes family conflicts, and watches the protagonists as both of them divulge emotional revelations while their relationship is slowly put back on track. Charlie & Boots can also be perceived as a picturesque tourist guide of rural Australia. During their travels the characters encounter the Grampians, Tamworth, Forbes, Tenterfield and even the spectacular Great Barrier Reed. A lot of these locations are low-key (Baz Luhrman wouldn't have used them), and the radiant cinematography courtesy of Roger Lawson does justice to them. Dean Murphy's direction is frequently competent, keeping things wonderfully minimalist and naturalistic (an efficient set-up that poignantly observes Charlie's grief is a particular highlight). Dale Cornelius' delightful score adds yet another layer of enchanting flavour. The movie may be little more than a string of vignettes that all adhere to a similar formula, but everything fits together nicely. Just how well it'll play for an international audience is a mystery, though.
Charlie & Boots is heavily laced with dry Aussie wit that's well suited to Australian audiences, who should also readily identify with the characters and be enthralled by their warmth. Most of the film's good-natured comedy is derived from witty lines and a number of hilarious comedic set-pieces (such as a sequence involving a not-too-bright police officer). Yet despite the film's strong points, there are problems with the screenplay (penned by director Murphy and Stewart Faichney). The main problem is that the whole thing is painfully by-the-numbers - it's your usual bonding road-trip movie which obeys the rules of the genre (we know Charlie and Boots will patch up their relationship, for instance). Here's another thing: laughs are a tad too limited considering the talent involved. It's never particularly dull per se, but it only rarely takes off in a way that's seriously exhilarating.
Getting Paul Hogan and Shane Jacobson together in a movie was a terrific idea (however tenuous their physical resemblance). Hoges is his usual brilliant self as Charlie; delivering a trademark performance that has echoes of his glory days. The former Crocodile Dundee star is able to express an inner sadness that's deeply affecting, and the gradual breaking down of his character's bitterness and reserve is effectively conveyed. Meanwhile, Shane Jacobson is pitch-perfect - likable, sympathetic and above all relatable as Boots (whose real name is revealed in an amusing, nicely judged scene). He perfectly embodied the hard-working Aussie bloke in the 2006 hit Kenny, and in Charlie & Boots he brilliantly embodies your typical middle-aged man. In the supporting cast there's the young Morgan Griffin, who would've been 16 or 17 during production. Griffin brings a delightful warmth and buoyancy to the material, and an audience will miss her (as the boys do) when she abruptly leaves the story. Roy Billing, in a brief cameo, is another amusing highlight. The movie is in loving memory of Reg Evans who plays an amusing minor role in the movie, and who died in the 2009 Victorian bushfires.
All things considered, Charlie & Boots is a pleasant, enjoyable little Aussie film of male bonding which is both funny and touching. Its charm is very pervasive, and it's difficult not to yield to it. Any Australian who has ever taken a multiple-day road-trip will easily relate to the situations the protagonists encounter (car trouble, snoring relos, etc). Charlie & Boots may be a highly clichéd affair, but it'll surely plant a smile on your face - and who can complain about that? Be sure to watch until after the end credits for a bonus laugh.