One doesn’t want to be too hard on the third episode of the “Crocodile Dundee” saga. Coming a full thirteen years after the second flick (which followed the original by only two), it’s relentlessly good-natured, and studiously avoids anything that might offend the family audience. It also allows Paul Hogan, an affable fellow, to return to the role that made him internationally famous, and his low-key charm is once more evident.

Unfortunately, “Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles” is also a shapeless, lumbering movie, less a coherent whole than a series of brief sketches–some of them little more than a few seconds in length–that aim for a punch line and then simply fade into the next. What little plot there is, is absurdly flimsy–Dundee and his long-time girlfriend Sue (Linda Kozlowski) return to America in order for her to help her newspaperman dad by taking a suddenly-vacant slot on his Los Angeles daily. They bring along their sweet blond son Mikey (Serge Cockburn) to see the world. Soon they’re involved in investigating a movie studio whose string of boxoffice stinkers might be a cover for some illegal activity. This gives Mick the opportunity to “go undercover,” with fairly predictable results.

The plot, needless to say, is but a frail reed on which to hang a succession of bits in which Dundee, as ever, upstages everyone with whom he comes into contact simply by showing his Down Under common sense and manly virtue. Some of them, like a chat with George Hamilton at a studio party or a couple of conversations with Paul Rodriguez as a Hollywood extra, are mildly amusing; others, like an encounter with a bunch of would-be muggers or another with an angry croc, are obvious nods to famous sequences from the earlier pictures; many, like an encounter in a park with a mild-mannered Mike Tyson, fall pretty flat. All of the material involving the studio baddies, played by Jere Burns and (an increasingly heavyweight) Jonathan Banks, is sadly unfunny, and the climactic confrontation, which hinges on the hero’s uncanny way with potentially ferocious animals, is particularly feeble.

The only member of the cast who makes much of an impression is Hogan himself. He’s so at ease in the title part that he could be sleepwalking through it–a facility that audience members might occasionally envy him. Cockburn is nicely unaffected as his son. Kozlowski, on the other hand, is completely wasted as Sue, although–true to the family values the picture espouses–she and Mick do finally tie the knot in the end. Alec Wilson, who plays Mick’s buddy Jacko, seems a pleasant enough fellow, though his acting is on the amateurish side. Aida Turturro appears briefly as a secretary and looks very substantial.

“Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles” is as thin and ephemeral as a TV variety show from the 1960s, and just about as au courant. But it’s eager to please, and castigating it too harshly would be like kicking an arthritic old dog that hasn’t the energy to crawl out of your path. If you choose to see it, consider the ninety minutes the equivalent of a visit to a long-absent friend who’s slowed down considerably and is no longer as quick or amusing as he once was. That will make you a lot more tolerant of its obvious frailty.