Friday, January 21, 2011

The Green Hornet

The only reason I went to see THE GREEN HORNET is because a friend wanted to go. I kept reminding myself of that as I sat through this loud, utterly inane excuse for a movie. As this nonsense unfolded, I was also reminded of the countless times I've watched movies which I would've never given the time of day had it not been for friends and/or loved ones. In fact, the day before I watched THE GREEN HORNET, I sat through, yes it's true, LITTLE FOCKERS (!), as my wife's cousins were interested in it. Whether or not you'll get a full review for that one remains to be seen, invisible audience.

The Green Hornet originated as a radio program in the 1930s, with later incarnations through the years, most notably as a popular 60s TV program starring Van Williams as the titular hero and Bruce Lee as his assistant, Kato. The 2011 version stars slacker poster boy Seth Rogen and Jay Chou in the respective roles. It is not a step forward. Primarily, the screenplay by Rogen and Evan Goldberg is to blame. I'm not opposed to injecting humor into the often deadly serious superhero genre, by the way. As much as I appreciate the dark comics of Batman and the Marvel characters, I often find that a little lightness of tone can leaven the narrative. In this movie, the tone isn't just light, it's transparent. To borrow a line from another critic describing another movie, THE GREEN HORNET is "so laid back it's almost non-existent".

Rogen plays this character like a greatest hits version of the other shlubs he's played for Judd Apatow and others. His take on millionaire playboy (aren't all superheroes millionaire playboys when they're not out fighting crime and wearing tights?) and son of a newspaper tycoon, Britt Reid, is so lazy and disaffected that you almost feel like you're merely watching a guy ambling around his apartment. The stakes are high in this story, with no less than the entire city of Los Angeles hanging in the balance as bad guy Benjamin Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz, embarrassing himself) seeks to unify all the street gangs and keep District Attorneys in his pocket, but the way Rogen reacts, he may as well be in a bathrobe and nursing a Chivas. I don't know what he was thinking here, maybe trying to go with that detached sardonia that Chevy Chase did in FLETCH (which has obviously been an influence on Rogen and his co-conspirators)? It does not fit in this movie.

Aside from an amusing gag at the end of the film, the rest of it isn't much better. Unimaginative use of some otherwise good songs. We're served up loads of admittedly cool gadgetry but also over-the-top action sequences (mainly CGI) that are repetitive and downright dull. There's a lot of wholesale destruction in this movie, be it car chases with blazing guns fired through windshields or Britt and Kato having a bit of a huff and beating the tar out of each other in a way overdone (and -long)sequence after they barely survive an encounter with Chudnofsky.

Kato, the martial artist/inventor genius is played by Chou efficiently and likably, but ultimately he's just not that interesting. Bruce Lee did it much better 40 something years ago (there are some references to the kung fu star here and there in this movie). The chemistry between Rogen and Chou runs hot and cold, with some amusing bits, but like that of the film itself, there's no momentum. Never once did I care what happened, especially to Britt/Green Hornet, as Rogen plays him as an annoying twit. He garners neither sympathy nor interest. This is not helpful when the entire movie is about such a character.

Cameron Diaz is around for eye candy, playing Britt's secretary/researcher. She and Edward James Olmos, who plays one of Britt's late father's newspaper editors, are given very little to do. Waltz, though, is really wasted with his silly part, a twitchy villain who asks everyone's opinion on how scary he is. None of the ingenuity we saw with him in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is on display here.

Director Michel Gondry, the visionary behind ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, really squanders his skills with this mess, which is basically one frantic scene after another, yet despite all the explosions and noise the whole thing is still strangely low energy, even passive. I guess it does take some skill to pull that off....
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