Movie Review: The Green HornetMovie Review Thursday, February 3rd, 2011
Directed by Michel Gondry
Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
Starring Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, and Christoph Waltz
At every multiplex and in 3-D. But the effects are tacked on; a waste of an extra $5
If someone is out there ranking pop culture bear icons, Seth Rogen is probably somewhere below Alec Baldwin and Tom Colicchio and above Patton Oswalt and John Goodman. Rogen is chunky, hairy and he has a face that expresses a goofy sweetness in almost any situation. This is especially use-ful after he’s said something absurdly filthy. If you’re into bears and laughing makes you randy, Rogen may be your pin-up. As an actor, he has perfected the role of the foul-mouthed loser in Knocked Up, Pineapple Express, Observe and Report, and Zack and Miri Make a Porno. So, he would probably be close to dead last if you were planning on casting the role of the masked vigilante, the Green Hornet. But Rogen was cast, and he also co-wrote and executive produced The Green Hornet, a film whose faults lie not so much in its casting, but rather in its attempts to merge comedy and action, plus not being very funny or terribly exciting.
The film is just the latest incarnation of the 74-year-old character, that first appeared on the same radio station as The Lone Ranger in the 1930s, and has starred in film serials, comic books and a short-lived TV show in the 1960s. The TV series starred the more stereotypical hunk and pin-up Van Williams, as well as Bruce Lee as the Hornet’s trusty sidekick Kato. Hollywood has been trying to reboot the franchise for almost twenty years with actors like George Clooney and Jet Li. Michel Gondry, the auteur responsible for at least three works of inarguable genius (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the videos of Bjork’s “Human Behavior” and Daft Punk’s “Around the World”), was the first director attached to the film in the 1990s. Before Gondry ended up re-attached and actually making the movie, the job was to be done by Kevin Smith and then Steven Chow. The list of writers who have worked on drafts of the script is so extensive that naming them would eat up the rest of the page.
To the credit of Gondry, Rogen and his co-writer Evan Goldberg, unlike many movies that have had troubled histories, The Green Hornet doesn’t feel like a messy collage of other writers and directors’ ideas pasted together by a committee of corporate hacks with a box of glue sticks. The intense colors and emotionally jarring staging that Gondry is known for is tempered, but his ability to tell a fantastical and absurd story is not. And Rogen and Goldberg’s story is not simple: Britt Reid (Rogen) is the ne’er-do-well playboy son of the publisher of the Los Angeles Daily Sentinel, Bert Reid (Tom Wilkinson). When the elder Reid dies, Britt not only inherits the newspaper but he also discovers that one of his father’s employees, Kato (Chou), is a mechanical and martial arts genius. Britt and Kato become best friends and more-or-less stumble into vigilantism. Combining Kato’s skills, and Britt’s money and childlike ambition to be a hero, the Green Hornet is born. Intertwined into this original story is a criminal conspiracy to take over Los Angeles led by a murderous crime lord with a self-esteem problem, played by a strangely subdued, almost bored Christoph Waltz. A second subplot is Britt and Kato’s competition for the affections of Britt’s secretary Lenore, played inexplicably and, like Waltz, thanklessly by Cameron Diaz.
But the heart of the film is the bromantic relationship between Britt and Kato. (The jokes about their mutual adoration are pleasantly not homophobic.) Perhaps as a reaction to the racially problematic versions of Kato of the past, in Rogen and Goldberg’s version, Kato is both the brains and brawn of the duo. Britt is a profane dilettante trying to overcome the disgust and disappointment of his father, and without Kato’s weapons, costumes and fighting skills, he would never have survived his first street fight. When their conflict finally reaches its climax, they destroy a great deal of architecture and furniture in a brilliant slapstick fight staged with a couple of brave stunt men. It’s disappointing that the funniest bit of the movie is mostly wordless (and starless), since a film starring Seth Rogen should be at its best when he’s doing his dirty and brave verbal improvisation. In fact, most of the scenes meant to showcase his comedy fall flat. In the majority of these scenes, Rogen’s acting partner is Chou, who pulls off his action sequences with aplomb, but whose deeply accented English makes his words, and thus his comedic timing, occasionally confusing. Then again, blaming Chou may be unfair; Rogen doesn’t get much out of his scenes with Cameron Diaz, either, and she’s a highly skilled, if not brilliant, comedic actress. Sometimes, despite the best of intentions, a film just doesn’t work. That said, no one in The Green Hornet embarrasses themselves. In fact, Rogen looks great in a light beard and nicely tailored suit. Woof.
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